How data and analytics drive better outcomes for Oregon's juvenile offenders

Mon, 2016-06-27 13:15 -- Liz Enbysk

Getting the right youthful offenders in the right setting, served by the right programs, for the right length of time is an ongoing concern for the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA). And of course OYA is not alone. Cities around the world struggle with the cycle of incarceration – and often poverty – that plagues their youth populations. Getting the placement, treatment and support services right, suggests a white paper from Council Lead Partner SAS on the OYA initiative, makes a big difference in safety for the public and the futures the young people will have. 

OYA is a leader in evidence-based treatment practices designed to prevent young offenders in its system from re-offending and to teach them pro-social behaviors. In a SAS-hosted on-demand webinar and white paper, OYA researchers provide an overview of their Youth Reformation System (YRS). YRS is a series of data-driven initiatives powered by the agency's database which pulls from a variety of sources – employment and education records, child welfare data and health services among them.

Improving the odds of success
The YRS provides detailed, customized research data to help staff make informed decisions about the best placement, treatment and services for youth offenders, to improve the odds that they will lead productive, crime-free lives.

The idea behind YRS is to develop an objective way of looking at each young person and then juggling the variables to determine the best treatment option and support services for that individual.  It uses a variety of tools to create that view:

  • The OYA Recidivism Risk Assessment (ORRA) tool predicts the likelihood of a repeat offense, using variables that impact recidivism such as prior weapon offense referrals, total prior misdemeanor referrals, total prior felony referrals, gender, age, etc.
  • Another tool provides clarity into the typology that best characterizes an individual, which helps OYA understand how best to provide treatment and support based on what is known about outcomes for other youth of that same typology.
  • A third tool combines insights from both tools to predict the likelihood of a youth’s success when placed in different environments – for instance, a youth incarceration center versus a residential treatment facility versus staying in the community on probation.

"One tool tends to serve another," explains OYA Research Analyst Margaret Braun. "We created ORRA to assess the risk of recidivism. We created typologies to determine areas where youth will be more successful. And we created predictive success rates that use typologies and ORRA scores together to determine where youth will be most successful."

More on the way
The three tools described above are just the beginning. OYA is working on many more research efforts. One of them is to ensure that equations in other tools do not perpetuate or exacerbate racial or ethnic disparities or cause disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system. Another is a gaps analysis tool to determine alternative approaches for youth who have a low probability of success in any standard treatment option.

But as powerful as data and analytics can be, they don't negate human intervention. OYA Research Director Paul Bellatty puts it this way: “Data, research and predictive analytics do not replace professional discretion; they enhance it." He says there will always be factors that are uniquely human and require personal expertise.

SAS is a leading analytics firm that provides governments with a variety of solutions for child well-being.

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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