Diversion, Alternatives to Detention and Risk Assessment Tools
In 2019, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee and Washington enacted laws related to using assessment tools to divert appropriate youth from formal court processing.
Arkansas’ law, which will take effect in July 2020, requires all courts to implement diversion agreements based on the use of validated assessment tools, and also mandates the use of risk assessment tools in determining whether commitment of juveniles to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) is appropriate. Courts are prohibited from committing juveniles for misdemeanor offenses if the validated assessment deems them low-risk. Community-based alternative services are required to be evidence-based, developmentally appropriate, family-centered, strengths-based and trauma-informed. Finally, the law also requires the DYS to develop a reinvestment plan to redirect savings realized from reductions in the number of secure confinements to community-based services.
Similarly, Tennessee passed reforms clarifying when a court may place a child on diversion and what conditions, including the completion of substance abuse and mental health treatment services, may be required for the completion of diversion.
Colorado enacted sweeping reform in 2019 requiring the adoption and implementation throughout the juvenile justice system of validated risk and needs assessment tools, including a mental health screening instrument and a tool to be used by district attorneys in determining a juvenile's eligibility for diversion. System stakeholders must be trained on how to use all the tools and develop plans for measuring effectiveness. The law also expanded opportunities to divert youth from the juvenile justice system and limit the use of detention to only young people who pose a safety risk to themselves or the community. New procedures for juvenile probation were also adopted.
Louisiana enacted “Solan’s Law” in 2019 designed to reduce the number of juveniles detained in the state by using assessment tools. The law states that secure detention shall be used only when it is determined to be necessary based on the child's assessed risk to public safety or to secure the appearance of the child in court. A detention screening instrument to determine the child’s risk to public safety must be used before or as soon as possible after a child is placed in detention. Additionally, each judicial district or parish is statutorily allowed to develop alternatives to detention programs, with no fees to the young people engaged in the program. The law is named after a 13-year-old boy who took his own life in a Louisiana detention facility.
Washington amended its law to keep out of detention those charged with status offenses—conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, but for which juveniles may be adjudicated, including truancy, curfew violations, incorrigibility, running away, and underage possession and/or consumption of alcohol or tobacco. Specifically, the state eliminated the “valid court order exception”, which was a loophole in the law that allowed judges to detain status offenders for disobeying court orders. The new law directs the court to use other interventions including nonsecure out-of-home placement options, community-based mentoring, counseling, family reconciliation, behavioral health services and other services designed to support youth and families in crisis and to prevent the need for out-of-home placement.