The D.C. Superior Court has been awarded $196,000 by the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) to develop a diversion program for juveniles who are arrested for nonfelony offenses. Of the funds, $160,000 will be used to pay for youth services and $36,000 for administrative costs and supplies.
Under the program, targeted to begin next January, a randomly selected group of 100 arrested youths will participate in a one-year community rehabilitation project and will not be adjudged delinquents. They will work or attend school, take part in recreational programs and receive individual and family counseling, among other services.
A control group of 100 youths convicted as delinquents and placed on probation will be monitored to compare recidivism rates, program costs, reduction of the juvenile court administrative workload and the time span between arrest and start of treatment programs.
Both the diversion program and the juvenile probation branch will be administered by officials from the same office - the Superior Court social services division. Critical of its own record in keeping juveniles out of the criminal justice system, the probation department contends that many youths will be better served by the diversion program.
"It pays to be self-critical sometime," said Robert Hilson, deputy director of the juvenile branch of the Superior Court social services division. "We want to see what is the best job to be done for kids."
Earlier this week, Hilson and Alan Shuman, director of the social services division, met with more than 20 representatives from private community agencies to discuss how the diversion project will be implemented.
Only private agencies can bid for service contracts, said Shuman. Contract application forms will be sent to the agencies within the month, and they will have 30 days to respond, he said.
The program model outlined by the court calls for three to seven agencies to work interdependently to screen and treat the youths, contined Shuman. A lead agency will act as the hub for the others and perform additional administrative duties to coordinate the units, which will be located throughout the city.
Applicants will be screened by a three-member review board. Their recommendations will be submitted to Shuman, and the final plan will be approved by the city's Office of Criminal Justice and Planning Analysis, the agency responsible for monitoring city spending of LEAA grant money.
In the pre-proposal conference, community service representatives recommend that one group of agencies be responsible for assessing youth problems, while the remainder concentrate on treating problems in accordance with a rehabilitation program agreed to by the youth, the family and the attorney involved.
"I think it's a good concept," Harriet Taylor, an attorney with the Southeast Neighborhood House social service program, said at the end of the three-hour conference this week. "We found people weren't doing things in the best interest of the child. I think this program is shifting to what (social) reformers feel (juvenile rehabilitation) should be."
On the other hand, Hope Stewart, director of Hope Inc., another youth social service agency, said she is concerned that the program model might prevent some smaller community service groups from competing with the larger programs.
"Right now I have that problem," she said.