Hamilton County Launches Effort to Improve Juvenile Justice System

Hamilton County is the latest jurisdiction, and the first site in Ohio, to join a national initiative to launch a comprehensive, data-driven review of its juvenile justice system. The effort will identify strategies to improve outcomes for youth involved with the system while enhancing public safety.

The project is part of the Improving Outcomes for Youth (IOYouth) initiative, which helps states and local jurisdictions align their policies, practices, and resource allocations with what research shows works to reduce recidivism and help young people succeed. The CSG Justice Center will perform the review, which will examine the system from diversion through reentry.

Nearly 3,000 youth are referred to the Hamilton County Juvenile Court each year, and they are disproportionately youth of color. Theft, disorderly conduct, drug possession, and assault are the most referred offenses to the court, but a key area of concern for the county is the prevalence of youth charged with gun-related offenses.

CSG Justice Center staff will analyze case-level juvenile justice and fiscal data, examine county policies, and convene focus groups and interviews with key stakeholders. These activities will shed light on how the system currently operates, identify challenges, and determine what can be done to improve it. Additionally, CSG Justice Center staff will help develop a sustainable community engagement strategy that integrates impacted youth and family voices into the assessment and decision-making process.

The effort will be conducted under the direction of the Hamilton County Juvenile Task Force, a group established by the Hamilton County Juvenile Court and composed of stakeholders including law enforcement officials; representatives from the county prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices; the juvenile probation chief; leaders from the education, children’s services, and behavioral health systems; and community-based providers, among others. Hamilton County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge Melissa Powers will chair the task force.

The Hamilton County Juvenile Court has a history of initiatives and partnerships that have improved how it delivers services to youth and their families. Over the past five years, the Hamilton County Juvenile Court has seen a 35 percent decrease in the number of delinquency and unruly (status offense) filings it processes, and there has been a 24 percent decline in admissions to the county’s juvenile detention center.

The Hamilton County Juvenile Court will also partner on this project with the Ohio Department of Youth Services, which provides overall guidance, training, and funding support for county juvenile justice systems statewide. The department will document and share lessons learned from Hamilton County’s assessment process with all Ohio counties so that the project benefits recidivism-reduction initiatives statewide.

What They’re Saying

“The court has a long history of great work, and we are committed to being even better than we are. This review will help us determine what is working well and where we can continue to improve as a court and as a community.”

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge Melissa Powers

“As a community-based organization that lives and works with families dealing with difficult circumstances every day, it is an honor and vital for BLOC Ministries to be a voice for this task force. My hope is that living in the neighborhood we serve in will add a perspective that enhances not only this initiative but also the individual students and families we work with.”

Chris Staser, Director of Ministry Operations for BLOC Ministries, a community-based organization that provides mentoring and support for students and families in Cincinnati

“All of us have a piece of this puzzle, and it is important to bring the stakeholders together to develop comprehensive solutions. Working in silos has not worked, and we must join together if we intend on making a difference.”

Chief Mark Denney, Colerain Township Police Department

Photo by SeanPavonePhoto on Envato Elements

About the Authors

Image for:
Stephanie Shaw
Project Manager, Corrections and Reentry
Stephanie Shaw works with states and counties to improve outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system. Stephanie has also worked to reduce the overuse of jail through initiatives such as Stepping Up and the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice
Challenge. She has extensive experience with youth and families involved in the justice system through direct service, research, technical assistance, and program design. Most recently, Stephanie was the director of violence prevention at the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, where she worked to enhance community-led youth gun violence prevention. Stephanie holds a BS in psychology from the University of Arizona and an MA in community psychology from the University of New Haven.
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  • Image for:
    Sheridan Watson
    Public Affairs Manager, Communications and External Affairs
    Sheridan Watson develops media relations, public affairs, and digital strategies to advance organization-wide initiatives. Prior to joining the CSG Justice Center, she served for more than 10 years as a spokeswoman and communications advisor for three members of Congress. Previously,
    she managed a portfolio of policy issues for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and served in communications roles at the Archdiocese of Washington and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Sheridan earned her ABJ in public relations from the University of Georgia and her MA in legislative affairs from The George Washington University.
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