By Stephanie Rondenell and Jeff McDonald
In 1992, Jefferson County, Colorado, experienced an increase in youth violence that led to a rise in juvenile arrests and filings. This juvenile activity had a negative impact on the juvenile justice system, since it lengthened time from police contact to a court appearance.
The ‘Why’ of a Juvenile Assessment Center
Leadership determined that coordinated services for youth would benefit the county’s juvenile justice system. A single point of entry was determined to be a potential solution that would lead to better intervention services, improved identification of low-risk offenders, better information sharing, and shorter lengths of stay in detention.
The “What” of a Juvenile Assessment Center
Jefferson County designed and developed the model for a single point of entry juvenile assessment center. The mission of the Jefferson County Juvenile Assessment Center (JCJAC) is to be “an assessment center that is responsive to the safety and well-being of youth, families, victims, and the Jefferson County Community.”1 The goals of the JCJAC are to
- create a single point of access,
- reduce law enforcement officers’ time,
- provide multiagency screening and assessment, and
- ensure community safety.
The logic model outlines the juvenile flow for the juvenile assessment center in Jefferson County.
The “How” of a Juvenile Assessment Center
The JCJAC works with youth who have school concerns such as truancy, suspension, or expulsion. The target population for the JCJAC is youth ages 10 to 17 years old. The JCJAC works with youth that have had contact with the juvenile justice system, mental health concerns, conflict with their parents, contact with municipalities, and issues with fire setting. The JCJAC also works with youth who have substance abuse and alcohol issues.
The JCJAC receives referrals from multiple sources ranging from schools, human services, police officers, municipal services such as probation and diversion programs, community education programs, and low-risk offenders from the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department. This is accomplished through the single point of entry for all youth requiring services within Jefferson County.
The JCJAC also receives walk-in referrals from the community. There is no so-called wrong door that a youth walks through to get to the services at the JCJAC. The JCJAC provides services to youth and their families by providing information on how the juvenile justice system functions and by offering referrals on available best practices and cost-effective services to families in the community.
The JCJAC provides a primary service to law enforcement in Jefferson County through the single point of entry for all youth that come into contact with police. After law enforcement officers transport a youth to the JCJAC, they log the youth in through an electronic login system and leave the youth with JCJAC staff. JCJAC staffers contact parents or legal custodians, complete comprehensive screenings and assessments,2 and provide referrals and recommendations. JCJAC staff may recommend the youth be placed in the custody of human services, advise a mental health evaluation for a psychiatric hold, or facilitate the placement of the youth in detention. A component of these services for the community is the ability of the JCJAC to perform detention screens for youth; the youth are assessed using a juvenile detention screen and assessment guide, which is used to determine mandatory holds, determine public safety and self-harm risk factors, and determine if community resources will be utilized for the services or if family resources will be accessed. Each youth is asked to participate through a Terms of Participation agreement as participation with the JCJAC is voluntary with a limited length of stay. Each youth and family is informed of what will occur, and JCJAC staff review privacy and confidentiality issues with the youth and family.
The JCJAC and Information Sharing
The JCJAC’s ability to understand where a youth has been and what may have occurred to get the youth to the current situation is attributed in part to the proper sharing and access to information. JCJAC staff members have access to multiple systems to view information on youth involved in juvenile justice, youth corrections, or human services. All the systems are web based and secured to prevent improper access. The JCJAC also is a local pilot site for the National Juvenile Information Sharing (NJIS) Initiative, a program working cooperatively with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to develop the proper data sharing protocols for juvenile information sharing. The JCJAC has worked with the NJIS Initiative for three years, helping to identify priority data exchanges and privacy and confidentiality issues. The JCJAC was instrumental in reviewing and redeveloping the guidelines for juvenile information sharing to the enhanced version of the Governance Guidelines for Juvenile Information Sharing, the OJJDP’s national data sharing protocols for juvenile justice.3
More of the “How”
The JCJAC is able to financially operate through contributions from its partnering agencies. The JCJAC is a collaborative within the Jefferson County, working with the district attorney’s office, public schools, municipal agencies, human services agencies, and mental health agencies. Through its intergovernmental agreement, the JCJAC’s partnering agency contributions are broken down as follows:
- Jefferson County (including the district attorney, social services, and mental health): 46 percent
- Jefferson County Public Schools: 14 percent
- Local municipalities (12) and the sheriff’s office: 40 percent
One of the reasons that the JCJAC works so well in Jefferson County is because it is cost-effective. It co-locates staff so that it operates efficiently. All parties that use the services of the JCJAC contribute to its budget providing for cooperative services between county agencies.
The JCJAC is successful because it uses a multisystemic approach to youth and families and maximizes its community partnerships. It is also a low-cost alternative to detaining youth by providing and conducting evidence-based assessments that reveal the needs of the youth. The JCJAC’s access to information ensures the resources provided to the family are based on a comprehensive view, resulting in effective outcomes for children, youth, and families. ♦
1“Who We Are,” Jefferson County Juvenile Assessment Center, https://www.jeffcojac.org/who-we-are (accessed January 14, 2013).
2These assessments are strength-based needs assessments that have been validated or are evidence based and community focused.
3The Governance Guidelines for Juvenile Information Sharing can be found at http://www.juvenileis.org/guidelines_flash.html (accessed January 14, 2013).
Please cite as:
Stephanie Rondenell and Jeff McDonald, "The Juvenile Assessment Center and Information Sharing: The Whys, the Whats, and How It Works in Jefferson County, Colorado," The Police Chief 80 (January 2013): 22–23.