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Data Stories

Deep dives into the First Judicial District Attorney's office.

Pathways Juvenile Diversion

By Sue Ferrere · 2024-01-18T00:00:00.000Z

“Pathways’ success shows that in our community young people who come into contact with law enforcement can benefit from diversion programs and community partners. I am proud of our investment in policies and strategies that prevent unnecessary justice system involvement, and help young people get the support they need to move forward.” – 1st Judicial District Attorney Alexis King

Our juvenile diversion programs provide an opportunity for young people to avoid a criminal record and further contact with the criminal justice system. Juveniles and young adults suspected of a crime are initially assessed at the Juvenile Assessment Center (“JAC”). More than half are referred for Diversion programming, including Pathways, Sexting Solutions, and the Low-Risk Offender Program (LROP). Juvenile prosecution focuses on higher risk juveniles who have committed multiple offenses or are suspected of serious crimes.

It's important to note that when we talk about “risk” in this context, we’re talking about risk of future involvement in the system. A risk assessment evaluates the factors in an individual’s life that make them more or less likely to be involved in the system in the future; for example, supportive family members and school enrollment are protective factors against future involvement whereas use of alcohol or drugs is a risk factor for future system involvement. The term “needs,” in this context, include interventions - like behavioral health treatment or employment skills training - that bolster protective factors or reduce risk factors

In 2023, 23% of juvenile cases were diverted through the Pathways diversion program. Our Pathways Encourage and Engage program (E&E) provides an alternative to traditional prosecution tailored to a juvenile’s individual risks/needs. Clients range from 10 to 17 years old, but most are between 14 and 16. Approximately 70% of referrals are pre-file (meaning the case was a direct referral to Pathways and has not been filed into the court system). Most (65%) are charged with a misdemeanor, while only 25% of juvenile defendants accepted into Pathways diversion are accused of felonies. These felonies are lower-level, and less than 25% of Pathways E&E cases involve VRA offenses. A “VRA” offense is covered by the Victim Rights Act, which outlines the rights of crime victims and the responsibilities of criminal justice agencies to support them. See also our data story Serving Victims of Crime.

Pathways juvenile clients are assessed for their risks, strengths, and needs using a screening tool and/or full risk assessment. Once assessed, the clients meet with an experienced client specialist who develops individualized programming targeted to the juvenile’s risks and needs. For example, if a juvenile is accused of theft and the risk assessment indicates substance use as a risk factor for future system involvement, the programming would likely involve substance use assessment and treatment.

Outcomes. Since its inception in 2022, the Pathways program has had an impressive success rate of 91% for juvenile participants. Upon successful completion of the program, the juvenile's case is either dismissed or not filed at all, and the records are sealed.

Benefits.  In addition to avoiding a criminal record, juveniles experience improved school enrollment, a known protective factor against justice system involvement. At the time of arrest, 8% of participants were not enrolled in school, were truant, or were suspended. At completion, 100% of juveniles who were truant at the start were re-enrolled or had completed school.

Recidivism.  Because the program is relatively new, there is limited but very encouraging recidivism data. 57 juveniles completed Pathways at least one year ago, and none have had a new case filed in the 1st Judicial District.

Strategies to Improve Court Appearance

By Sue Ferrere & Jennifer Kilpatrick · 2023-8-31

Individuals charged in a criminal case are required to appear in Court as determined by the Court’s schedule. If a defendant misses a Court date, that absence is recorded as a “Failure to Appear” (FTA) and a bench warrant is issued, which can trigger arrest and jailing, often for minor offenses. The repercussions cascade: Cases with FTA’s take longer to resolve, victims experience a delay in justice, District Attorney and Court caseloads become backlogged, and taxpayers bear the costs of missed hearings [1] and increased bookings into the jail. While some defendants may be avoiding prosecution, studies show that most missed court appearances are unintentional. Failures to appear at doctors’ appointments occur at similar rates to court dates and the primary reasons are the same: forgetfulness, transportation issues, and schedule conflicts.[2] However, there is now abundant science on how technology and supportive strategies based on behavioral principles can improve court appearance. The most effective intervention is the same one your dentist and stylist use: reminder texts.

The Colorado Judicial Branch implemented a court date reminder program, in stages, over the past several years. [3] Initially it was opt-in but evolved to universal, where all criminal cases now receive a reminder unless the person opts out. We recently took a look at how the text reminder program impacted County Court arraignments (first court appearance, typically after receiving a summons).

Overall, for 12,872 arraignments between January 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023, there was a 61% court appearance rate and a 39% failure to appear (FTA) rate. That is nearly 5,000 missed hearings over 18 months, for traffic and misdemeanor cases alone.

However, there was a noticeable difference between the first half of 2022 and the first half of 2023, when court date reminders went full scale. Court appearance rates increased by 16% between 2022 and 2023 – the equivalent of 1,000 more people showing up for their court date in the first half of 2023 than in the first half of 2022. The improvement is in line with that seen by other text reminder programs, including the program piloted locally in Jefferson County more than a decade ago.[4]

Court appearance rates improved for both misdemeanor (M) and traffic (T) cases, but reminder texts appear to have a greater impact on T cases. M cases’ court appearance rates increased by 13% (35% to 48%) whereas T cases increased 17% (62% to 79%).

Additional Strategies to Improve Court Appearance

Court date reminder texts improved appearance rates, but some types of cases showed greater improvement than others. For example, the appearance rate for DUI cases improved by approximately 20 percentage points to 85%.[5] On the other hand, appearance rates for drug and property cases remain below 50% even after implementation of reminder texts.

The 1st Judicial District Attorney, in collaboration with other justice system stakeholders and the Jefferson County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC), is exploring other strategies and targeted interventions to further improve court appearance rates. These include:

  • Uniform and Modernized Summons Design

A well-designed law enforcement summons is crucial to court appearance. The Court opens a criminal case based on it and uses the defendant’s contact information for a text reminder, which can only be effective if that information is accurate and reliable. For the defendant, the summons should contain pertinent, accessible information about their court date, time, and location. We are reviewing local law enforcement summonses to see if updates are warranted.

  • Supportive Interventions

We are also exploring ways to support court appearance beyond text reminders, since a disproportionate number of individuals with criminal cases experience homelessness, behavioral health needs, and financial instability. A good example of a local innovation is Lakewood’s Community Outreach Court, which brings Court to the community once a month, and also provides access to resources.

[1] Estimated at $1,000 per missed hearing, see Impact of Failure to Appear

[2] Getting Patients in the Door: Medical Appointment Reminder Preferences

[3] Mandated by Colorado Senate Bill 19-036 and expanded in Senate Bill 22-018

[4] Schnacke, Timothy R.; Jones, Michael R.; and Wilderman, Dorian M., "Increasing Court-Appearance Rates and Other Benefits of Live-Caller Telephone Court-Date Reminders: The Jefferson County, Colorado, FTA Pilot Project and Resulting Court Date Notification Program" (2012). Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association. 393.

[5] Even text reminders for doctors’ appointments top out at ~90%:

Supportive Interventions for Drug Possession

By Kenneth Hayes and Jennifer Kilpatrick · 2023-5-30

From 2017-2019, our office filed approximately 1,200 felony drug cases per year, primarily for possession.  In 2019, Colorado legislators passed House Bill 19-1263, which reclassified most drug possession to a misdemeanor. The statute took effect on March 1, 2020. The legislation decreased the felony filings, added a significant number of cases into county court, and dramatically shifted how drug possession cases are handled within the criminal justice system.

Individuals charged with possession of controlled substance often lack stable housing, consistent employment, and access to treatment. Nearly 80% of individuals fail to appear (“FTA”) for their first court appearance and recent local data also indicate that approximately 50% of individuals charged with drug possession spend some time in jail, either in pretrial detention or as a sentence.

Drug charges also impact our community disproportionately - Black and Latino individuals are overrepresented in cases involving drug charges. Our Disparities Analysis reveals that Hispanic and Black individuals are more likely to plead guilty to a drug offense than white individuals. In addition, Latino individuals are more likely to be incarcerated for a case involving drug charges than white or Black individuals.

To address these cases our office prioritizes community-based treatment and support for individuals charged with drug possession. Those charged only with drug possession are eligible to have their criminal charges dismissed and access treatment through our Pathways Substance Intervention Program (SIP). The Pathways program was intentionally designed with the assistance of the Center for Justice Innovation to promote equitable outcomes, decrease failure to appear rates, and connect individuals with opportunities for meaningful treatment quickly through Ascent Health.

SIP became fully operational in the Fall of 2022, resulting in more than a quarter of 2022’s possession cases being diverted to supportive services.

Because of the great work of our line deputies in identifying Pathways eligible clients and the hard work of our Pathways client specialists, our Pathways clients look like the communities most impacted by the traditional, punitive criminal justice response to substance use disorder. In Pathways, individuals receive support rather than punishment.

FYI: Census Population Estimates 2022 for JeffCo: White 91%, Black/AA 1.6%, AI/AN 1.2%, Asian 3.2%, Native Hawaiian/PacIsl 0.1%, 2+ races 2.7%, Hispanic/Latino 15.9%, White alone/not Hisp 77.2%