Health & Environment

PPRI Researchers To Evaluate Felony Diversion Program For Young Adults

Outcomes of the first year of the program, which offers low-level offenders an alternative to incarceration, will be monitored by Texas A&M researchers.
By Caitlin Clark, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications June 10, 2019

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Texas A&M University researchers will monitor the outcomes of a felony diversion program for young adults.

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A program that aims to offer a different path to young adults in the criminal justice system will be evaluated by researchers at the Texas A&M University Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI), who will study whether offering community-based social services affects recidivism and overall health.

PPRI assistant research scientist Georges Naufal, along with project director Emily Naiser, will conduct and lead the study of the Lone Star Justice Alliance’s Transformative Justice program as part of a team with the University of Texas Health Science Center and Harvard University’s Access to Justice Lab. The team will conduct a randomized control trial to track program participants’ health and criminal justice outcomes.

In traditional adult court adjudication, Naufal said, a person who is arrested appears before a magistrate, who sets a bail amount. Whether one is released on bond, in most cases, depends on whether they can afford to pay bail. In lieu of this traditional path, Naufal said, Transformative Justice participants – young adults ages 17 to 24 arrested on low-level felony charges – will be released on a personal recognizance bond and put through the program, which is to be offered in Williamson and Dallas counties.

“The program is 18 months, and offers community-based supervision such as mental health and physical health, social work, some education and employment, having a mentorship,” Naufal said. “And at the end of the 18 months, if they graduate, then their record gets expunged.”

Naufal said the research team will evaluate the success of the program and track whether the defendants’ records are expunged or if they are re-arrested.

The research is funded by a $228,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Systems for Action program, which focuses on public health and social services. The grant will allow the researchers to monitor the success of the first year of the program in Williamson County, which launches this summer.

Naiser, who is the co-principal investigator on the project with Naufal, said about 75 percent of adults from this age group will recidivate, or return to criminal activity, within two to three years. The success of the program would have a large impact due to the significance of the recidivism rate, she said – the re-arrest rate among young adults is higher than in any other age group.

Transformative Justice will address health, education, housing and income needs. Naufal said many of these emerging adults struggle with homelessness, addiction, mental health problems or other challenges that oftentimes lead to recidivism if the issue isn’t addressed upon release. In the program’s first year, researchers will focus on data collection and evaluating which parts of the program are or are not working, he said.

“During that 17 to 24 [age group] people in general learn about themselves, and learn about what they like to do and some of their weaknesses, some of their strengths, and if you’re involved with the criminal justice [system], you may get into a vicious circle, and it will literally affect your long-term trajectory,” Naufal said. “Such a program that addresses such an important group of the population is important.”

The project aligns with PPRI’s applied research focusing on public policy and criminal justice issues such as indigent defense. Naufal said most of the participants of the program PPRI will evaluate will be indigent defendants who cannot afford their own attorneys.

According to Lone Star Justice Alliance, the Austin-based nonprofit leading the program, the pilot phase of Transformative Justice will reach 200 people per year, and has plans to expand to several thousand by the fourth year.

Media contact: Caitlin Clark, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications, 979-458-8412, caitlinclark@tamu.edu.

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