Juvenile Offenders: News From the States

Elisa Di Trolio, Colorado Division of Criminal Justice
Julie Rodriguez, Colorado Division of Criminal Justice

The Colorado Youthful Offender System (YOS) represented a new sentencing option for juvenile cases that the District Attorney filed in adult court. It was at the DA's discretion that juvenile cases were filed in adult court. Officials at the governor's office, along with legislators with expertie in the area of juvenile and criminal justice, mental health experts, administrators from the Colorado Department of Corrections (DCOD) and the Division of Youth Corrections (DYC), and juvenile and district court judges worked together to accomplish two things:

1) Greatly expand the ability of the DAs to prosecute youth as adults, and 2) Provide a sentencing option that recognized concerns that the youth were still rehabilitative.

During an evaluation of the Youthful Offender System, researchers sought to answer several questions regarding program implementation, recidivism, the amount of funding spent per offender, whether the correct population was being sentenced to YOS, and what issues were impacting the program.

This presentation will address two findings from this evaluation:

1) It appeared that the correct population was, indeed, being sentenced to YOS. Without this sentencing option, YOS offenders would have very likely received a direct sentence to adult prison. Youth sented to YOS in calendar year 2000 had the largest proportion (98 percent) of persons with convictions that are most likely to be defined as crimes of violence (murder, kidnap, robbery, assault and burglary). This proportion was nearly twice as large compared to offenders sentenced to CDOC.

2) During the time of this evaluation, researchers found no evidence of specialized services targeting female youthful offenders. In fact, "equitable" treatment was being implemented as "equal" treatment, meaning that the females receive the same treatment as the males. The distractions caused by the presence of opposite-gender youth are likely to have undermined treatment efforts for at least two reasons. First, YOS residents can be distracted from working in their treatment program, a natural consequence of their age and adolescent development. Second, the important efforts implemented to increase security at YOS require that, of course, ongoing resources be directed toward security. This focus, while currently extremely appropriate, likely occurs at the expense of focusing equal resources on programmatic activities.

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Updated 05/20/2006