- Erin Espinosa, Ph.D.
Because of the disproportionality of youth with mental health needs in the juvenile justice system and the possible long term negative effects of this involvement, a strategy should be utilized to divert youth with mental health needs away from the juvenile justice system and instead to community mental health providers that will provide more effective support.
Through the Front End Diversion Initiative (FEDI) specialized juvenile probation officers (SJPOs) are used as diversion for youth with mental health needs from the juvenile justice system. FEDI is a pre-adjudicatory diversion program for youth and was originally developed with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of its Models for Change Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Action Network. With FEDI, SJPOs maintain a reduced caseload and receive training and coaching that will facilitate their ability to assist youth with mental health needs. These SJPOs are trained to identify mental health with a screening instrument, connect youth and their families to community resources in order to support retention of youth in their homes and ultimately keep them from further involvement with the juvenile justice system. Use of SJPOs through FEDI has been evaluated in Texas and has been designated a “Promising Program” by the National Institute of Justice’s CrimeSolutions.gov
The purpose of this study is to replicate FEDI in the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, develop a fidelity and competency measure for specialized supervision, increase evidence base for specialized supervision as a strategy to support youth with mental health needs and publicize study results in order to impact the more broad public systems.
The project will exist in two phases with the first phase including planning and preliminary implementation while the FEDI model is tailored for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. The second phase will study the effectiveness of specialized supervision in Maryland as compared to previous evaluations. Upon successfully determining whether or not specialized supervision works as a pre-adjudication strategy to keep youth with mental health needs out of the juvenile justice system, implementation will be expanded throughout Maryland.
The study will increase evidence of effects of specialized supervision as an intervention strategy, and it would be one of the first assessments to include an extended evaluation period of up to 12 months after supervision ends.
The implementation of the specialized supervision model through FEDI will fill the gap that exists in Maryland to provide intervention to youth with mental health needs involved in the juvenile justice system. This study will also contribute to the overall adoption and implementation of evidence based practices within juvenile justice systems. Relationships between the Department of Juvenile Services and providers of mental health resources within the community will be strengthened as well.