Alternatives Pilot Project

Overview

The purpose of the Alternatives Pilot Project was to determine whether client-specific rehabilitation activities (Client Specific Planning) can reduce the number, length and security level of custodial dispositions of 16-17 year old youth who were expected to receive a custodial disposition, without compromising community safety or increasing recidivism rates. While data for some project outcomes was unavailable, it seems clear from the available data that the Alternatives Pilot Project was successful at redirecting youth from custodial sentences and providing services that potentially promote rehabilitation and reintegration.

Context

The Department of Justice’s Youth Justice Policy Section carried out an evaluation of several Operation Springboard pilot projects, which assessed the impacts these projects had on helping young offenders avoid incarceration. This impact was determined by looking at the extent to which the pilot projects reduced the use of court process and custody, as well as identification of any evidence that the youth involved in the project would have otherwise gone through the formal court process or been sentenced to custody.

Participation

To be eligible for the pilot project, the youth had to be custody bound. The youth had to also voluntarily participate in the project, and be a 16-17 year old accused residing in the City of Toronto. An assessment, using the Hoge Assessment tool and the Ministry of Correctional Services assessment tool, identified the youth’s risks and needs, which in turn resulted in the development of client-specific rehabilitation activities: the Client Specific Plan. This plan, in whole or in part, was often incorporated into the terms of probation by a judge.

A total of 84 clients were referred to the project from April 2000 to December 31, 2001. Of these, 60 were accepted to begin the assessment process and 24 were not accepted as they did not meet the eligibility criteria. The majority of the youth were 17 years old at the time of the acceptance to the program and charged with multiple offences.

Operation

The key operational tasks of the project were: an identification of 80 (later amended to 130) custody-bound youth by court officials; complete assessment of the youths’ risks and needs in the form of a pre-report; completion of a Client Specific Plan, which included an assessment of criminogenic risk factors and identification of support systems; need for psychiatric intervention; community resources and treatment options; evaluation of youth’s progress and commitment to the plan; and plan timeframe.

The project staff also developed and maintained an inventory of resources for referral purposes, which included culturally-specific agencies and young offender-related service agencies (e.g. literacy, employment, counseling, treatment). Staff was available in court on the day of sentencing and kept ongoing contact with the youth’s family.

Evaluation

The evaluation findings, based on 78 client files, quarterly reports and court transcripts, indicate that the project’s stated goal – to reduce the number, length and security level of custodial dispositions of older youth who were expected to receive a custodial disposition – was met. It is not possible to say definitively whether or not community safety was compromised or whether recidivism rates remained the same.

The pilot project was limited by the degree to which the job responsibilities of the Alternatives Pilot Project staff appear comparable to those of probation services officers, and so clearer communication about their respective roles and responsibilities – which in practice often overlap – would have benefitted all program participants. 

Nonetheless, the thorough client assessments gained the recognition and respect of the judiciary and the project staff were well respected among the community agencies, who indicated they would like to develop greater collaboration with the Alternatives Project.

Recommendations

The evaluation recommended that efforts be made to present the project to probation officers as a specialized service for a specific group of youth, to ensure it was not perceived as competing with the mandate of probation services. Also, a research plan should be developed to collect post-project recidivism data as that would help determine to what level the project succeeded.

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