The Lab @ DC
Stronger Evidence for a Stronger DC

How can looking back on a youth diversion program inform its future?

How can looking back on a youth diversion program inform its future?

DC Department of Human Services

Project Summary
DC offers youth with low-level delinquency and status offenses support services in place of arresting and prosecuting them. We partnered with the Department of Human Services (DHS) to complete a descriptive analysis of the Alternatives to Court Experience (ACE) program from its start in 2014 through 2017. ACE is an inter-agency program led by DHS in collaboration with the Department of Behavioral Health, the Office of the Attorney General, Court Social Services, the Metropolitan Police Department, and a network of community-based service providers. DHS is currently working to standardize the program and serve more clients.

Why is this issue important in DC?
There is evidence that participants in juvenile diversion programs, like ACE, are much less likely to commit additional offenses than youth who are arrested and prosecuted.1 Based on this research, we sought to better understand and support DC’s ACE program.

What did we do?
ACE is an approximately six-month program that supports youth and their families with personalized services⁠—like family therapy and mentoring⁠—to address the issues underlying the youth’s behavior. We merged ACE case management, assessment, and recidivism data, then conducted a descriptive analysis. Our analysis described:

  • Who was served,
  • How services were customized using an assessment of risks in their lives, and
  • Outcomes achieved in the areas of legal involvement, school attendance, and risk reduction.

What have we learned?
From 2014 through June 2017, ACE served 1,718 youth. Of the youth served, 76% had no further legal contact either during or after the program, and only 11% did not complete the program. Clients who received some specific program components—like mentoring—tended to have more positive outcomes than clients who received other services.

While we were able to document outcomes for youth who participated in ACE, we cannot say that these outcomes are due to the ACE services alone because of the way youth are referred to the program. Because almost all of the youth who are referred to ACE participate, there is no easy comparison group and it is hard to measure the effect of the program as a whole.

The Department of Human Services. The Department of Behavioral Health. The juvenile justice side of things: The Office of the Attorney General, The Metropolitan Police Department, Court Social Services. Individually each of them is unique and capable in their own ways. But I think [that] together, as a program, we’re very powerful.
— Hilary Cairns, Deputy Administrator for the DHS Youth Services Division2

What comes next?
We had detailed discussions with ACE staff around the report findings and explored a new evaluation to test whether different supports within the program would improve outcomes for youth. Currently, ACE leadership is prioritizing further standardizing their work and hiring additional staff to support more clients, so any additional evaluation is on hold.