Thursday, January 16, 2014

PILOT PROGRAM: The REALVICTORY Solution to Utah's Juvenile Incarceration

A couple months ago, I was introduced to a group of BYU behavioral scientists who have been working on a program to improve the outcomes of our juvenile corrections system.  At our initial meeting, I was not sure what to expect.  However, by the meeting's end, I had a bill file opened and I became an immediate advocate for their cause.

The program is called REALVICTORY.  It is a unique blend of life skills training and mentoring merged with technology.  The program is very simple on its face.  Participants are schooled through hours of training which teaches them how to evaluate making better choices and to correlate their life experience to the choices they are making.  The program helps  participants answer the questions: Are you satisfied with your life circumstances? and How do the choices you make affect your life circumstances?  The training helps tie the action-and-consequences chain together for participants.

In conjunction with the skills training, technology is used to follow up with participants in a way that is intensive. Participants are issued a phone number (and also a phone if needed) which has been charitably donated by a corporate cell phone company.  Prior to leaving incarceration and their skills training class, participants establish a method of accountability with program managers.  The participant creates a series of questions that quiz them on accountability.  Questions might be similar to: Have you stayed away from drugs today? or Did you search for employment today?  or any other question that the participant believes will help them achieve their individual goals.  

Once the participant is released and returns back to society, an automated server system places calls to all the participants.  The custom pre-selected questions are asked and the participant uses their phone to answer the yes or no questions.  Parole officers have access to the participants answers and can identify where help is needed to keep individuals on course to succeed.    

The results illustrate how effective this program is:

Since this program is being administered by scientists, we have a control group to compare results against.  The control group did not receive any training or phone coaching. The average re-arrest time is just over 3 months for the control goup, the REALVICTORY participants who receive training and phone coaching have an average re-arrest time of over 9 months.  That is a significant improvement.

When it comes to changing social attitudes, the program has a significant effect as well.  Here you can see that participants shift their sphere of influence away from those who have legal troubles.  Whereas, the control group tends to gravitate toward fellow peers on probation.  The circle of friends that offenders choose to associate with has a strong determination on their future success or failure.  Here we can see that participants in the REALVICTORY program tend to choose fewer friends who will cause them trouble.      

In these chart we see how the program has significantly enhanced participant work performance and employment levels.  Having employment is a key factor in preventing recidivism or re-arrest.  Workers who perform well stay employed.  

Obviously, the successes of the program reduce how much money taxpayers must spend on juvenile corrections.  Juvenile offenders cost the state on average $56,000 per year to handle.  This cost is based on the cost of being housed in a secure facility.  For REALVICTORY participants, the cost to the state on average was $11,000.  Thus, the state saved an amazing $45,000 per juvenile that participated in the REALVICTORY program.  Of course, this figure does not include court fees, the cost of damaged or stolen property, and other indirect costs which surely are reduced as a result of this program as well.

So, with this information in light, I am proposing that the state fund a pilot program to expand the reach and scope of the REALVICTORY program beyond its current limited capacity.  I am asking for $250,000 to help scores of youth who find themselves at a critical crossroads in their life.  Fortunately, according to the cost-benefit projections, it appears the program would break even if it helped only six youth.  It is anticipated helping exponentially more than that.

The program holds the promise to steer many of our troubled youth from a path of dreariness and crime.  I hope the Legislature agrees with this assessment and funds this program.        

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014 Voter Survey

It's that time of year again and it's time to get your feedback on the issues.  Print this form out and mail it to me.  Be sure to include your email address.  Or, you can EMAIL ME your responses if you prefer to save the paper.  Or you can take the Online Version of the survey.  Either way, let me know how you feel about the issues.

The General Session starts at 10am January 27th, 2014.  Let's look forward to an eventful Session. I am sure there won't be a dull moment.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bill File: Justice Through Restitution

I recently drafted a bill file dealing with sentences of restitution when it relates to our juvenile offenders.  Here is a copy of the bill.

I have been working with the Attorney General's office in crafting this legislation.  As you can see, it is fairly simple (changes to current law are underlined).

The reason for the bill stems from a case in West Valley City where a young man was being chased by some peers in his neighborhood.  There was a dispute over personal property and the young man ended up killing one of his chasers in an act that had some elements of self defense but not entirely.  The courts determined that the youth who killed the other young man should be sentenced to detention and that a part of his sentence would be to pay for the burial costs of his victim.

However, after this young man served his time, the prosecuting attorneys motioned to the court to move forward with the restitution phase of his sentence.  It was at that time the defense attorneys for this young man cited a part of Utah Code that showed the young man did not owe restitution even though the court had ordered it.  Under current law, juvenile courts loose their jurisdiction once a youth has been sentenced to incarceration.  Hence, they cannot act on the restitution aspects of their sentences once the offender has served their time.

This bill simply allows the courts to maintain their jurisdiction over the offender after their time is served so that restitution can be fulfilled and supervised when it has been part of the offenders sentence.