“Move them up, move them down, ship them out”, was a comment that stuck with me at Tuesday’s site visit to the Center for Court Innovation’s newest project, Q.U.E.S.T. (Queens Engagement Strategies for Teens). As callous as it initially sounds, there was an attractive strategy that I would like to bring back to the Bronx. Read more...
Located in a church basement in Jamaica, Queens, QUEST is a two-tiered community based program that supervises youth between the ages of 7-16 who have delinquency cases pending in family court. Unlike the program that I coordinate, the Juvenile Accountability Court (JAC), QUEST functions as a predisposition alternative to detention. What this means is that youth are mandated to QUEST before they ever proceed to fact finding (family court terminology for a trial) and are not required to enter a plea.
Depending on the severity of the crime, criminal history and other relevant factors, youth are mandated to either Tier One, which monitors solely school attendance and curfew compliance or Tier Two, which includes intensive after school supervision up to five days a week in addition to everything in tier one. The after school supervision includes activities such as educational assistance, individual and group counseling and recreational activities that are held at the QUEST site. Participation ends on the 60th day of tier enrollment or on the 120th day of total enrollment if a child participates in both tiers.
If a child in tier two complies with program obligations and is well behaved, they can be “moved down” to tier one where the requirements are less stringent. On the other hand, if a child in tier one is non-compliant, he/she may “move up” to tier two and monitored more closely. Once a child completes their respective tier, they proceed back to court in search of a friendlier disposition.
What seems like a simple idea of creating different tracks is something I think the JAC program could really use. Currently, youth in the JAC program arrested for everything from possession of graffiti tools to armed robbery can be sentenced to probation from anywhere between twelve and twenty-four months. If JAC youth are fully compliant with all aspects of probation, there is the possibility that they are released from probation a few months early. However, nothing is guaranteed and this is not common practice.
The idea of creating more than one track for our probationers to “move up” or “move down” in accordingly would be a great incentive to motivate good behavior. To a fifteen year old, eighteen months of probation feels like a lifetime. As multiple tasks are added to their schedule, there seems to be no end in sight, nor any intermediate target to aim for. As a result, many youth on intensive year or two-year long probation are violated and remanded several times before they start to make any substantial progress. I think one way to combat this is to develop different tracks or tiers with varying levels of supervision and lengths of sentence that JAC youth can traverse depending on their behavior while on probation. That way, it’s easier for them to recognize when they progress or regress, providing them with more attainable goals to aspire to rather than just the daunting task of finishing probation en masse. Individuals are motivated by similar promotions and changes in rank and status in the workplace, in school and other areas and there is no reason that this same principle can’t be applied to JAC youth on probation in the Bronx.
As I continue to work with young people, I learn more and more about how to develop successful programming. As with people of all ages (especially teenagers), motivation is a key factor in finishing everything from school to the work day and in the case of the JAC youth, probation. My visit to QUEST has taught me one more great way to motivate our youth and I hope to implement a comparable tier system in the future.