By Gerald Kitchell, Acting Chief of Police, Miami-Dade, Florida, Schools Police Department
hroughout the United States violent crime has seen a marked reduction—reports of violent crime have decreased from 1.4 million in 2007 to 1.2 million in 2011.1 In the past few years, a growing awareness in high percentage rates of the detention of mentally challenged juveniles has made this good news contraindicative.2
The Miami-Dade, Florida, Schools Police Department (MDSPD) has participated in dozens of diversion models over the past 10 years, looking to reduce juvenile arrest while providing needed services. Each program that aired was given a review by staff hoping to find the one that addressed all of the needs of the youths it serves. Many helped to redirect youth in positive ways, and many were just lessons learned along the way on what not to do. In order to provide the best solutions for the school’s youth, some historical programs were re-evaluated and discarded that held no evidence-based reporting, and, then, experts were secured in fields where law enforcement was lacking nationwide, regarding youth and delinquent behaviors. A firm commitment was made not merely to create a program but to change the entire process of how to handle youth challenges. This process involves all persons that play a role in the maturation of our youth and is titled The Youth Assessment Model.
In creating this model, the MDSPD first met the challenge of evaluating and assessing juvenile needs and the status of current programs, as well as the effectiveness of the policies and procedures in handling juvenile discipline and contacts with law enforcement. MDSPD had extensive meetings with school district professionals in areas of truancy and regular and special education and with external experts in youth diversion, mental health, and community-based program assessment and evaluation. Utilizing proven and successful juvenile justice tools and interventions, psychosocial issues of at-risk youth are identified so that suitable treatment plans and referrals to appropriate services could be developed, with the goal of preventing juvenile arrests.
External program needs were reviewed both programmatically, for function and qualification, as well as for financial, evidence-based results. MDSPD looked for gaps in services and the process for interactive communications between the agencies working with youth in Miami-Dade County. The resulting model is a partnership among the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department, the Miami-Dade Criminal Mental Health Project, the Miami-Dade School Board, and the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department.3
The model takes 20 minutes to complete and in most cases eliminates hours of arrest time, transport time, court time, and all the time involved with repeat offenses. The model begins with a law enforcement contact with a juvenile. This does not have to be a criminal contact; it could very well be a Child Exposed to a Violent Act contact or a regular child-officer interaction.
Step 1. The officer quickly assesses regular police issues such as the safety of the area and the medical status of the youth.
Step 2. The officer completes a mental health assessment. This is best when officers are trained and certified in Crisis Intervention Team training. If no certification is available, the officer training for this model covers what needs to be accomplished.
Step 3. If the youth is in crisis or is under the influence of illegal alcohol or drugs, the youth is treated under the Baker Act or taken into protective custody per the Marchman Act.4 This is completed in place of any arrest unless the incident involves a violent act with injuries or a sexual act.5
Step 4. Mobile Crisis Units are called to handle issues that cannot be addressed by law enforcement due to time constraints or policy.
Step 5. If the incident involves an arrestable offense, the officers are instructed on alternatives to this arrest pursuant to state law and through local juvenile state attorney’s office agreements, or the youth is civil cited. The Civil Citation Program is a program that allows for the diversion of misdemeanor arrests to a civil citation, and, once an assigned program is completed, the arrest is nullified giving the youth a chance at a fresh start without a criminal record.6
Step 6. The officer calls a 24/7 phone number to access pertinent information on the youth so that decision making is meeting the best interests of the youth and community.
Step 7. A prevention referral form is completed and faxed to the Juvenile Services Department’s Prevention Initiative, which is designed for any youth 17 years of age and younger who may be experiencing behavior and family difficulties, as well as those at risk of being arrested. The program includes referrals that address issues such as anger management, disruptive behavior, family issues, drug experimentation, substance abuse, poor academic performance, school attendance and truancy, disciplinary problems, runaways, mental health issues, and negative peer association.
Step 8. The school district and school police contact numbers are provided to ensure that all gaps in possible services are filled and that the youth and family receive what is needed to avoid negative future contact with law enforcement.
The Miami-Dade School District has long provided identification services for youth in need, but, until this model, it has not been aware of law enforcement’s efforts to facilitate providing these services as well. Now as a full partner in the Youth Assessment Model, district staff works closely with law enforcement in areas of homelessness, truancy, and other special services.
Important personnel work in school and municipal, sheriff’s, or police departments; circuit court programs; or juvenile assessment centers, and the Department of Corrections and the local school district are also community providers. The partnerships are vital to the success of the model.
The implementation and outcomes of an evidence-based treatment can degrade when a mismatch exists between the population mandated to receive services and that for which evidence of treatment effectiveness exists. Research has shown that rather than rehabilitating young delinquents, juvenile detention—essentially a comingling of troubled youth—appeared to worsen their behavioral problems and that prior incarceration is a greater predictor of recidivism than carrying a weapon, gang membership, or poor parental relationships.7
By following this model, the process will
- create partnerships within the community, school, and corrections functions of a county;
- train police officers in the full assessment of juveniles before making arrest decisions; and
- reduce arrests, lower recidivism, and provide much needed quality services to youths and families.
The MDSPD reports a savings in hours for each juvenile assessed rather than arrested; this saving is between six and twelve hours of an officer’s time, both regular time and overtime. ♦
1FBI, “Violent Crime: Overview,” Crime in the United States, 2007, www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/offenses/violent_crime/index.html; and “Violent Crime: Overview,” Crime in the United States, 2011, www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/violent-crime/violent-crime (accessed January 17, 2013).
2Barry Holman and Jason Ziedenberg, The Dangers of Detention: The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in Detention and Other Secure Facilities (Washington D.C.: Justice Policy Institute, November 28, 2006), 10, www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/dangers_of_detention.pdf (accessed January 17, 2013).
3“History,” MiamiDade.gov, www.miamidade.gov/juvenileservices/history.asp (accessed January 17, 2013).
4“Baker Act Information,” Sharon Robertson, Clerk of Circuit Court, www.clerk.co.okeechobee.fl.us/Baker_act.htm (accessed January 17, 2013); and “Marchman Act Information,” Sharon Robertson, Clerk of Circuit Court, www.clerk.co.okeechobee.fl.us/Marchman_act.htm (accessed January 17, 2013). Both are state-enacted legislation specificto Florida.
5“Criminal Mental Health Project,” Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida, www.jud11.flcourts.org/SCSingle.aspx?pid=285 (accessed January 17, 2013).
7“Baker Act Information” and “Marchman Act Information.”
Please cite as:
Gerald Kitchell, "Youth Assessment Model: Assessment, Referral and Diversion," The Police Chief 80 (March 2013): 46–47.