• Social Workers and Disproportionate Minority Contact: A Mixed Methods Study

      Afkinich, Jenny Lee; Bright, Charlotte Lyn (2020)
      Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) is the disproportionate representation of racial minority youth at all levels of the juvenile justice system. DMC is evident in rates of initial arrests, referrals to court, delinquency findings/ adjudications, out-of-home placements, and transfers to adult criminal court. Race remains a significant predictor of legal outcomes for youth even when factors such as prior legal history and current charge severity are considered despite White and minority youth reporting similar levels of offending. This mixed methods study examined the relationship between community social workers employed by the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SC DJJ) in the agency’s county offices and DMC. Administrative data from SC DJJ was utilized to determine the extent of DMC in the state, to compare legal outcomes (i.e., receiving confinement dispositions and being waived to adult court) for youth in counties with community social workers to youth in counties that do not employ community social workers, and to compare the legal outcomes for youth in counties with community social workers over time. The results indicate that DMC continues to exist in South Carolina when measured via relative rate indices. Overall, there was little evidence that employing community social workers is sufficient to reduce DMC at the disposition or waiver stage. Qualitative interviews with nine of the 11 community social workers were used to identify and understand the mechanisms, barriers, and facilitators for reducing DMC. The findings suggest multiple nuanced ways the social workers can play a role in reducing DMC. The social workers identified two stages in the juvenile justice process in which they can and have had an impact on increasing equity: (1) out-of-home placement decisions for youth on probation or parole and (2) determining probation requirements. The social workers described a need for hiring additional social workers. They also believe they could train police officers and school officials about alternatives to making a referral to SC DJJ to reduce inequitable decisions at the front-end of the juvenile justice system. Implications for the study include an expanded role for community social workers and new ways to examine DMC quantitatively.
    • The association between services and recidivism for adjudicated youth with behavioral health problems

      Winters, Andrew Madison; Bright, Charlotte Lyn (2018)
      Research consistently shows that a considerable proportion of adjudicated youth have substantial behavioral health problems; however, few studies compare a range of services for adjudicated youth with behavioral health problems and the association with continued offending. Therefore, the purpose of this longitudinal study is to explore the role of services for youth with behavioral health problems, comparing types of services, and the association with continued offending. The sample consisted of adjudicated youth who were placed in an out-of-home setting (N=2277). As such, placement type was used to explore the role of services. Survival analysis was employed to assess the time at risk for recidivism. Multivariate results suggest boys compared with girls, and youth from urban areas are more likely to recidivate, while older youth and youth who were adjudicated for a felony offense were less likely to recidivate. Youth with a high index of mental health problems had a 16% lower hazard of recidivating, and youth with a moderate and high index of aggression had greater than twice the hazard of recidivating. Youth who were placed in community-based residential programs were 24% less likely to recidivate compared with a more secure setting. As the length of placement increased youth were less likely to recidivate, and youth who had multiple placements were more likely to recidivate. This study is among a few studies comparing a range of services for adjudicated youth with behavioral health problems and strengthens the literature on out-of-home placements. Results suggest community-based placements may act as a buffer for continued offending and aggression problems significantly increase the likelihood of further offending. Furthermore, outcomes from this study suggest a tailored service approach for youth with aggression problems prior to justice involvement is needed. This study provides empirical knowledge for practitioners and policy makers by highlighting service pathways for adjudicated youth with behavioral health problems. Further research is needed to explore key decision entry points in the justice system in which services are most effective at reducing ongoing court involvement. Moreover, future research is needed to address how symptoms and services may differ by gender, race and ethnicity, and age.