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Institute for Public Health and Justice Participates in 2012 Louisiana Families in Need of Services Association Conference

The Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Institute for Public Health and Justice participated in the 2012 Louisiana Families in Need of Services Association Conference on April 26-27, 2012, in Baton Rouge. Attendants included representatives from the Louisiana Department of Education, Office of Juvenile Justice, the Louisiana Supreme Court and many parish-level Families in Need of Services employees and stakeholders. Dr. Debra DePrato, project director for the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation Louisiana Models for Change Initiative and director of the LSUHSC Institute for Public Health and Justice, led a discussion regarding efforts of reform to the status offender systems both at the national and local level.

“We are seeing a national movement to address core problems of status offender systems, including the overuse of detention or out-of-home placement, lack of immediate crisis response and service resources, overcrowding of courts with status offense cases and the high costs associated,” Dr. DePrato said. “Making the court the last resort and providing services that are tailored and community and evidence-based are a few of the best practice national models we sought to implement in Rapides Parish, through a MacArthur Foundation--Louisiana Models for Change grant.”

Presenter Dee Richter, an associate with the Vera Institute for Justice, is the former executive director of the Florida network—a nationally recognized model system for status offenders. Richter presented on the similarities between the Louisiana and Florida systems and highlighted opportunities where Louisiana could implement and improve on existing national models.

“An effective response system is key for status offenders. We implemented a few key initiatives in Florida that led to a very successful system, including establishment of a mission, vision, values and goals for the system, a work plan, rules of attendance, assignments, target dates for reform and an outcome database to show impact, cost savings and satisfaction ratings,” Richter said. 

The Louisiana Models for Change grant to Rapides Parish sought to build upon Florida’s successful initiatives addressing three targeted areas of improvement, disproportionate minority contact, improvement of access to evidence-based practices and providing alternatives to formal processing through relying upon effective community-based programs and services.

“In Rapides Parish, we targeted the Informal FINS population through the use of the school exhaustion form along with training, awareness and adherence to eligibility criteria. This resulted in schools and law enforcement taking a closer look at how they assess and refer youth,” 9th Judicial District Court Judge Patricia Koch said. “These efforts led to a more than 50 percent decrease in Informal FINS referrals from schools from 2006 to 2009. We also experienced a 63 percent drop in formal processing of status offenders and a 23 percent decrease in admissions to local detention for the same time period. While at the same time youth remained in school, succeeding in that setting within their community.”

Judge Koch attributed the collaborative efforts of the courts, schools, service providers and law enforcement personnel to the parish’s recent successes. She said those youth now placed in secure detention and/or appear in formal court are identified as high-needs youth who require access to services that will appropriately address presenting challenges. Rapides Parish plans to continue on this path of success through continued partnerships with community providers, educators and law enforcement, encouraging the use of quality data in decision making, continuing Informal FINS triage efforts and continuing to create a firm evidence base upon which practitioners can rely in seeking to replicate reforms.

Mary Ann Scali, deputy director of the National Juvenile Defender Center and MacArthur Foundation National Resource Bank member, presented alongside Judith Rozier, educational strategist with the Special Education Department Rapides Parish School District, about referral and eligibility of youth by the local school systems. Scali and Rozier touted the decrease in Informal FINS referrals to a few key policy changes adopted by Rapides Parish schools, including no out-of-school suspensions for status offenses, misconduct being handled within the school setting and clarification of school attendance policies.

States: Louisiana

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.