Webinar presenter Cassie Johnson answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "Restorative Justice Intervention Program: a Case Study." Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Cassie, you mentioned that your program is voluntary. Can kids or maybe perhaps more specifically their parents actually turn down participating in the program? If so, what are their reasons for doing so?
Cassie Johnson: Shockingly, they do. Like I said with the instance for the recidivism example we had one parent in particular that said that their child needed more intervention than what was likely to occur at the Youth and Family Services Diversion Program. That was an unfortunate situation. However, there are other people that just they don't want to do it. I know one instance of a youth participant that said, "No I'm good, I'll just do the other stuff". We can't quite wrap our heads around it from an operational standpoint. It's completely voluntary and so we stand by that so if they say, "No, I'm not interested", then we allow that. Victims are an interesting standpoint. We’ve had some victims that don't feel comfortable going through the program the more they ask questions about it and they learn about what it is they have typically all, actually, I think all have been on board with the program. We haven't had any victims that said, "No, this didn't work for me and I want to go forward with prosecution."
Audience Question: What does the failing the RJ program mean? What actually ends up happening? Are you tracking those who happened to fail the program?
Cassie Johnson: Yes, So failing is a harsh word and we talked about that in our regular meetings quite a bit. Is that the right word to use? For whatever reason, they were just unsuccessful at completing the program whether that means that they never contacted Youth and Family Services within the timeframe that was designated. Or they did not come to their scheduled classes, they did not complete their community service hours. Or the other option would be that somebody withdrew from the program voluntarily. Those instances we are tracking those. We do document the reasons as to why. A lot of the time when they do the intake interview, they can almost identify those situations into why they are going to happen. That's part of the Youth and Family Services individualized plan. They look at it and they do certain evaluations and say this is most likely to occur based on their history and their experiences.
Audience Question: And talking about recidivism rates can you compare again what is the recidivism rates of the people who participated in the program versus those who don't actually participate can you do a comparison again of the recidivism rates?
Cassie Johnson: I don't have those numbers with me and that's something I would feel more comfortable emailing back at a later date when I have the actual numbers.
Audience Question: Why was traffic deemed not eligible? Did you consider it? Did you consider having a similar RJ program that focuses on traffic and traffic safety re-education, etc.?
Cassie Johnson: That was decided before I really got into the program. All I really know from it because I've asked that too and I was actually asked that recently. That was a state decision that for whatever reason those types are they are not eligible for diversion at all, I think. I don't want to speak incorrectly but I do know that was from the very beginning just a no and there was no discussion around that one.
Audience Question: When was the program launched again?
Cassie Johnson: We rolled it out at the start of the school year at August 2016 with our school resource staff and then in October of 2016 we felt comfortable to rolling it out to all of our patrols. Now, anybody in the department is eligible to use this program when they see fit.
Audience Question: Are you using any longitudinal research to track how the program impacts kids versus maybe a control group?
Cassie Johnson: We're not doing a control group. We talked about it quite a bit and now especially when we're looking at losing that information with our retention guidelines it makes it harder to do a true longitudinal study because we don't know who they are after that one year and a few months. That retention schedule was approved in December 2017. We had to create a procedure so we just recently started purging those records so now we're looking at it from what can we feasibly do after the comparison study with the data that we will now have available moving forward.
Audience Question: Were there opponents to the program? If so what are the reasons for not wanting the program and having to overcome those arguments?
Cassie Johnson: Yes, when we were doing the quarterly training when we were rolling it out to patrol, I only went to one of those meetings as a presenter and apparently that was the one meeting where there was somebody who felt passionately about this program and not wanting to give freebies or get out of jail free cards (?). That's not the essence of this program so I think after clearly communicating it's not a free shot at getting away with something. They are still being held accountable. They're doing community service and they're making amends in ways that are meaningful and impactful. Learning about what they did impacts other people. It's not just a free pass and I think after that was clearly communicated the steps that they go through, it helps people really get engaged in the program and buy into it. Another thing is that officers are curious as to what happens with the youth after they went to the Youth and Family Services and diversion program and so we've been trying to get better about communicating that back to the officers after they are successful.
Audience Question: If the child's parents are separated or divorced is only the custodial parent notified or are both parents notified?
Cassie Johnson: I will have to get back on that. I don't 100% know. I think it's — I don't even want to say incorrectly, I'll get back on that.
Audience Question: You mentioned that you purged your records. You keep your records only for, what is it, 14 months and then you purge your records. Is the school notified of the child's participation in the program and does the school keep a record of these kids as part of their own, kid’s school records? Ultimately, can that student's participation in the RJ program be then used or found out by colleges and universities?
Cassie Johnson: Yes and no. That's a multipart question so let's break it down. It's a great question. One thing we have really been working towards when we have been building this program and continuing with it moving forward since the start is we definitely want to be a partner with the schools but this is not meant to be the school's form of punishment. What we mean by that is this can be used in addition to something especially when it happens on school property. It has been used to lower the number of hours for in-school suspension or do these classed instead of going to the school classes. However, we don't want it to become the school says you have to do this police department because you had this is as an option. So, we've been really careful about drawing the lines between this type of program and not that type of program and it needs to be maintained as such. That may answer a part of the question. Do you want to remind me what the others?
Audience Question: Ultimately, can the school end up keeping a copy or a record of the student's participation in the program and then that participation can be found out by colleges and universities? Does it become a part of the student's transcript?
Cassie Johnson: It might. I would have to find out from the schools what they are keeping track of. I haven't actually heard anything about what the schools are maintaining in their own records but if they were to keep something in their student file about it, then yes, I would imagine that the universities will be able to find it. However, what we are able to say with this program is that there will not be an arrest record moving forward after the successful completion in a one-year timeframe. So, if the school comes to us and does a public records request on the student or the military or an employer, there really is no record of the contact or the arrest or the diversion from the police department standpoint. We maintain there's an alert so that we know they can't go back into the program later on that we add to anybody that's not eligible so adults get the alert and so on. We still can identify them in that way. That's just our protection to say they don't have an arrest, they don't. They should still be honest though in any background investigation and say that they have police contact. Contact is still different than an arrest.
Audience Question: What nonprofits do you work with or partner with?
Cassie Johnson: Youth and Family Services has been able to refer our participants to a variety of places, Boys and Girls Club, Feeding Our Starving Children. They've gone through faith-based organizations, animal shelters. It really is up to the participant, their parents, and like I said, the victim. If they have a place they're interested in going to and working with, then we'll allow that most of the time, I think all of the time. I can't think of any instances the I’ve heard of where they've been told no that wouldn’t be eligible. We also have city locations, We have a resource center that they're able to work at, they can go and work at our senior centers so we have places internal to the city as well as nonprofits that we can partner with.
Audience Question: I know your program involves the prosecutor's office, how involved were the courts in developing this program?
Cassie Johnson: I'm not 100% sure on that. I know we’ve had a lot of conversations with the courts. I know most of my involvement has been with the county attorney's office directly and what they're interested in and how they approve our participants especially the ones that were extraneous to the eligible offenses list. They have regular communication with our liaison with the county attorney's office about our numbers and our involvements and what's going on with the program. I'm not a hundred percent sure what happens with the courts from their standpoint.
Audience Question: Is Youth and Family Services separate from the state prosecutor's office/juvenile authorities?
Cassie Johnson: Yes. The Youth and Family Services is a city department that falls under our Human Services Division. They work directly for the city. They're certified and approved in and licensed to do diversion for the courts. They're a city entity.
Audience Question: What are perhaps some of your biggest recommendations for those interested in employing this type of program for their city? Maybe some key lessons learned, things you wished you'd known when you started off on this great adventure? Any great insights you can share with folks who are interested in implementing this kind of program?
Cassie Johnson: There's a lot. I actually have a Lessons Learned Fact Sheet but I didn't include with the attachments but would've been a really great insight and resource. There are a lot of things while developing this program that we thought we had figured out then when we brought a different person to the table we realized that we didn't understand it as much as we thought we did. With any projects that I can think of but especially something that's as impactful as this, make sure the right stakeholders are included in the meeting from the very beginning. For instance, the records management system. We need somebody who really knew to retool our current tools and systems to make this program successful from our program evaluation standpoint. You can't determine how successful a program is if you don't have the right data to track it, making sure that we look at it from that lens versus just the diversion lens or just the law enforcement action lens. We're really having the breadth of viewpoints and experiences. Our team, our committee is sworn civilian of all ranks, we have an assistant chief, we have a commander, we have a lieutenant. We also have officers. we also have record staff specialists and we have technology experts so making sure everybody has a seat at the table. We always include our city partners, our Youth and Family Services are always there and we always make sure they're included in all of the conversations because they need to know what's going on from our standpoint, the operational side and law enforcement so they can accurately communicate it to the youth and the participants themselves because a lot of the time, we won't have contact with the juveniles after they entered the program. That's the way we want it. we never want to see them again, quite frankly in the best way possible. Making sure communication is the utmost priority. Everybody's at the table. If you don't have Youth and Family Services like-services in your city or at your disposal, forming relationships with your community and having those partners, you have to have it. There's no other option to this program if you can't build those relationships.