Audit Recommends Juvenile Court Department Improve Administrative Practices, Data Tracking

BOSTON – Today the Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump released an audit of the Juvenile Court Department (JCD) in which the time period of November 5, 2018 through March 15, 2020 was reviewed. The intended scope was to examine the JCD’s pretrial diversion program and use of restraints during juvenile court proceedings. However, the Office of the State Auditor’s (OSA) objectives could not be thoroughly examined as the JCD lacked data to review.

Previous audits of Hampden District Attorney’s Office and Worcester County District Attorney’s Office called on the offices to take steps to assess whether their Juvenile Diversion Programs met the goal of reducing recidivism rates. The Auditor’s office addressed the failure of the district attorneys to collect and analyze data related to recidivism, and found there could be no assurances program goals were being met without relevant data.

“A basic rule of management is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. We cannot determine the fairness or efficacy of our juvenile justice programs unless records are kept and evaluated. Suggestions that confidentiality is an impediment are a cop-out. I appreciate that the Juvenile Court will take steps to collect this important data so we can better prevent juvenile crime from becoming adult incarceration,” said State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump.

The audit’s two main objectives were:

1. Does JCD provide offenders with a pretrial diversion model (as required by Section 54A of Chapter 119 of the General Laws) that is aimed at preventing recidivism among program participants?
2. Does JCD comply with Section 86(b) of Chapter 119 of the General Laws, which prohibits the use of restraints (unless there is good reason to use them) during court proceedings?

The audit recommends that JCD require its courts use alternative diversion data forms and document the use of restraints during court proceedings in a master log to address these issues.

During fiscal year 2018, the state Legislature enacted the Criminal Justice Reform Act, Chapter 69 of the Acts of 2018 which amended Section 54 of Chapter 119 of the General Laws to state,

A juvenile court shall have jurisdiction to divert from further court processing a child who is subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court as the result of an application for complaint brought pursuant to section 54.

Our audit found that the JCD should maintain additional information about its diversion program participants to demonstrate all of its diversion programs are operated without biases toward or against any group. The audit recommends JCD require all of its court locations collect and retain information, in a de-identified manner, about each juvenile who is offered diversion. OSA believes this would document JCD’s juvenile diversion programs without biases and could be used to assess the effectiveness of its programs at reducing recidivism rates.

Lastly, the OSA recommends that JCD develop policies and procedures to monitor or track juveniles who are restrained during court proceedings by maintaining a master log of this information.

JCD operates as the department of the Massachusetts Trial Court that is solely responsible for adjudicating cases involving juveniles, in order to separate the legal proceedings of juveniles and adults. JCD comprises 11 divisions throughout the Commonwealth, with sessions taking place in more than 40 court locations. JCD is headed by a Chief Justice, who oversaw 40 judges as of May 3, 2022.

The audit can be viewed HERE.

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About the Office of the State Auditor
The Office of the State Auditor conducts performance audits of state government programs, departments, agencies, authorities, contracts, and vendors. With its reports, the OSA issues recommendations to improve accountability, efficiency, and transparency. The OSA has identified approximately $1.4 billion in unallowable, questionable, or potentially fraudulent spending and saving opportunities for the Commonwealth since 2011. Last year, auditees reported implementation of 90 percent of the OSA’s audit recommendations.

For more information, visit http://www.mass.gov/auditor or follow Auditor Bump on Twitter @MassAuditor, on Facebook, or subscribe to the Auditor’s Report e-newsletter.

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