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Strategy: Dealing With Serious Habitual Offenders

Strategy Comprehensive action and targeted enforcement helps law enforcement agencies identify and apprehend serious, habitual juvenile offenders. Such programs . . .


Comprehensive action and targeted enforcement helps law enforcement agencies identify and apprehend serious, habitual juvenile offenders. Such programs are most effective when combined with community-based services aimed at reducing additional offenses by the same individual.

Crime Problem Addressed

An estimated 6 to 8 percent of juveniles are responsible for 80 percent of juvenile crime. State and local laws that restrict sharing of records on adjudicated cases involving juveniles have limited agencies' access to vital information on repeat juvenile offenders. Decisions of the juvenile justice system based on incomplete information on past offenses have resulted in sentences for habitual offenders that may not adequately protect the public. This strategy focuses on identifying and apprehending repeat offenders and ensuring that sentencing suits the crime committed.

Key Components

Established by the DOJ's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the Serious Habitual Offender Comprehensive Action Program (SHOCAP) encourages information sharing among local law enforcement, probation, correctional, and social service agencies, as well as prosecutors, schools, and community-based organizations that serve youth.

The program's focal point is a database that lists serious, habitual juvenile offenders and integrates information gathered by all agencies and maintained by a local or state agency. Only staff of participating agencies can access the database's information. Profiles on each youth enhance case management and encourage interagency referrals for family support, therapy, and other aftercare services that reduce recidivism. In addition, participating agencies agree to procedures that address pretrial procedures, plea bargains, and sentences. Schools help the system by reporting crimes to the police, particularly those relating to serious, habitual offenders. The police monitor youth identified through the program, who sign a contract agreeing to a rehabilitation plan. Youth are removed from the SHO list after they show a year of good behavior as determined by the program's standards.

Key Partnerships

The relationships among participating agencies determine a SHOCAP's success. The agencies must establish procedures for sharing information and keeping the database updated. The program's success is enhanced when state agencies coordinate SHOCAPs in neighboring jurisdictions. Such coordination addresses concerns about offenders attempting to avoid sanctions by committing crimes in other communities. The partnership among agencies must also include outreach to community-based organizations that serve youth and families and can respond to the needs of youth who have been incarcerated.

Potential Obstacles

State policy prohibiting or limiting access to juveniles' records impedes SHOCAP implementation. Partnerships among local agencies and among localities can overcome this problem through education of state policymakers and community members concerned about confidentiality and "labeling" youth. Local officials should emphasize that the database's function is to facilitate assisting the youth and ensuring sanctions in line with community standards against violent crime.

Signs of Success

The Illinois Criminal Justice Authority administers the state's SHOCAP, OJJDP's pilot program. The Illinois program's database has enhanced the juvenile justice system's credibility by ensuring appropriate and consistent treatment of chronic juvenile offenders. The SHOs in the Illinois program are supervised by probation officers while they perform community service or work to pay restitution. A health center provides therapy, crisis intervention, and substance-abuse treatment referrals. The state's Department of Children and Family Services receives information on offenders victimized by child abuse or neglect. The program's success has led the Illinois General Assembly to develop a policy allowing each county to develop SHOCAPs within guidelines that respect state confidentiality laws.

Applying the Strategy

Oxnard, California's SHOCAP helped identify the community's "top 40" juvenile offenders. Record sharing that increased the number of apprehensions and provided prosecutors with vital information helped reduce juvenile crime by 38 percent within four years. SHOCAP was implemented in conjunction with citizen patrols, a crime prevention program on local cable TV, community policing, and crime prevention surveys of residents' homes. In 1994 the city's crime rate was the lowest in twenty years.

From 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime: A Resource for Municipal Agencies and Community Groups

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