Delbert Elliott speaking at the juvenile conference. 

Youth violence expert addresses children’s commission

Miami, FL — March 29, 2000 — Prosecuting children in adult criminal court does more harm than good and is ineffective in preventing and controlling crime, a leading youth violence expert told The Florida Bar Commission on the Legal Needs of Children last month.

Dr. Delbert Elliott came to Miami to deliver the keynote address at a national training conference sponsored by Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer and took the opportunity to meet with the children’s commission. The 31-member commission, chaired by Circuit Judge Sandy Karlan, is examining the role of the lawyers and the justice system in ensuring the health, safety and fair treatment of children.

Dr. Elliott was recently selected to work on the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report to the Nation on Youth Violence. He is the editor of the Blueprints for Violence Prevention series — describing model violence prevention programs — and director of the Program on Problem Behavior and Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado.

According to Dr. Elliott’s research, transferring juveniles to adult court is a counter-productive crime prevention strategy. He told the commission that scientific research has shown that juveniles prosecuted in adult court:

  •  face a greater risk of being brutalized by adult inmates in jail or prison,

  • are less likely to receive effective treatment or intervention than if they were kept in the juvenile justice system, and

  • are more likely to re-offend when they are released.

“The evidence is becoming very clear that there are some things we are doing that cause harm,” the expert said.

His comments are timely in light of bills proposed by the Legislature that expand the state’s “10-20-Life” law to 16- and 17-year-olds. The bills prohibit the use of juvenile rehabilitation programs for this group of juveniles.

In the last five years, Dr. Elliott’s research team evaluated over 500 prevention and intervention programs across the country and identified only 11 that met very high scientific standards of effectiveness. The programs were selected because they have a strong research design, can be replicated and produce positive changes that are relatively permanent, with the effects sustained for at least one year. 

Some of these successful programs for delinquent youth were featured at the conference: Multisystemic Therapy, Functional Family Therapy and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care.

Elliott said that the programs “provide an attractive alternative to just waiting for at-risk children to commit a violent crime or to incarcerating youth who come to the justice system’s attention because of involvement in drug use or criminal activity.”

He also noted that the best programs are not only effective in preventing or deterring violence and crime, they are also cost effective. For example, the Big Brothers-Big Sisters school mentoring program returns $2.12 for every dollar invested. Functional Family Therapy returns $10.99 per dollar, and Multisystemic Therapy, $13.45. In contrast, boot camps return only 26 cents for every dollar spent.

For more information about the blueprint programs, please visit the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence’s web site at http://www.Colorado.EDU/cspv/blueprints/

 

  

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Law Offices of the Public Defender
Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida

 

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