In January 2009, Lancaster County implemented an early screening and assessment process. The goal of this pilot project was to ensure consistent processing of juvenile offenses, especially for very young offenders, and to ensure that youth were matched to the most appropriate early intervention. The Juvenile Justice Institute was invited to evaluate the effectiveness of this early intervention. Little is known about the effect this project has had on official juvenile court processing of youth, so another important question is how this early process has impacted the overall number of youth entering the Lancaster County juvenile justice system. To evaluate the overall effect of the early screening process, we examined: 1) the process itself, 2) data on youth referred to the early screening process, and 3) trends in Lancaster County’s juvenile justice system. We analyzed three aspects of the process itself including: how long it takes a case to progress through the early assessment program, the assessment instrument utilized, and legal aspects related to this intervention. One important finding is that this early intervention is not available to all Lancaster County youth. Another key finding is that often the prosecuting attorney’s decision did not coincide with the Assessment Specialist’s recommendation. Most importantly, we found that this early intervention did not increase the number of youth entering the juvenile justice system in Lancaster County; nor did it increase the number of younger children being brought into the system. Trend data indicate that as Lancaster County becomes more reliant on alternative programs like the early assessment program, the number of youth officially processed through the courts has declined. This trend has not been consistently downward, and has fluctuated from year to year, so Lancaster County should remain vigilant and reexamine this baseline data in a few years.
Juvenile Justice Institute, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Hobbs, Anne M.; and Kim, Myungwoo, "Evaluation of Lancaster County Early Assessment Process" (2010). Reports. 30.