The mission of the Juvenile Justice Center is to achieve statewide excellence in juvenile justice through research, policy analysis, and education/training.
The Juvenile Justice Center emanated from a perceived need for information and training in the area of juvenile justice in Arkansas. The importance of establishing the Center has been enthusiastically echoed by practitioners in informal interviews. The area of juvenile justice is also the research focus of Dr. Lisa Hutchinson who has extensive experience in the field.
Furthermore, 7% of youth between 16 and 19 years old have dropped out of high school. In 2006, 34% of Arkansas’s 4th graders and 27% of the 8th graders scored below the basic reading level. In addition, in 2006, 50 per 100,000 teens died by accident. Teen deaths from all causes in 2006 were 66 per 100,000. Further, in 2006, 11% of the children in Arkansas had no health insurance.
The need for this Center is also demonstrated in the risk behaviors of Arkansas’s youth. In 2004-2005, 10% of 12 to 17 year olds and 42% of 18 to 25 year olds reported binge alcohol drinking, and 11% of 12 to 17 year olds and 39% of 18 to 25 year olds reported smoking cigarettes in the month prior to completing the survey. Marijuana use was reported at 7% for 12 to 17 year olds and 16% for 18 to 25 year olds and other illicit drugs were reported at 5% for 12 to 17 year olds and 8% for 18 to 25 year olds (Kids Count Data Book, 2006).
Finally, many youth in Arkansas are already under state supervision. In 2006, a total of 633 youth were committed to the Division of Youth Services for delinquent offenses. In addition to these youths, other young people were committed to community based programs throughout the state. The community based network consists of 14 privately operated non-profit organizations with whom the Division of Youth Services contracts to provide both residential and non-residential services. This extensive system of services and service providers has no evaluation mechanism currently in place. Millions of dollars are being spent in Arkansas to offer programs to troubled youth, yet no entity is responsible for evaluating outcomes. The Center will serve as the primary evaluator for state programs for youth.
The issues surrounding juvenile justice are complex. First, laws defining juvenile delinquency, families in need of services (FINS), and dependency and neglect are complex and multifaceted. Accordingly, many police, lawyers, and policy makers do not have a clear definition of juvenile justice. Furthermore, many family, school, community, and legal factors are intertwined when studying juvenile justice. For these reasons, a central location should be established where policy makers, state officials, police, courts, and corrections, as well as schools, parents, non profit service agencies and the Department of Health and Human Services can go to access information in a consistent, uniformed manner. The Center will serve as the primary mechanism in the state for research, evaluation, and data collection of the complex issues surrounding juvenile justice. Furthermore, the Center will train professionals in Arkansas regarding issues, laws, and policies germane to juvenile justice.
Complex issues of juvenile justice are at the forefront of national interests. From issues of juvenile substance abuse, to issues of school safety, federal agencies are funding research and evaluations aimed to improve the life chances of youth and their communities. Development of the Center will place the Department in the position to compete nationally for grants and to publish research findings of interest to a broad array of audiences; thereby, enhancing the visibility of The Department nationally.
The Juvenile Justice Center is located within the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The Center has three focus areas: research/program evaluation, policy analysis, and education/training. Results from each of the components will affect juvenile justice policy and practice across the state. The Center will serve as the primary information clearinghouse for juvenile justice issues in Arkansas.