Evaluating Youth Deferred Prosecution in Cook County

Promising pilot results lead to expanded program

The pandemic disrupted many systems and services, but one COVID-related delay prevented youth from entering the juvenile justice system. Due to the significant case backlog, eligible youth in Cook County who were charged with class 1-4 felonies and were first-time, non-violent offenders were offered a place in the pilot Cook County Youth Deferred Prosecution program. The program connected them with a care coordinator who assessed their specific situation and needs and referred them to service providers – everything from mental health and substance use services to mentoring, life skills training, and employment and education services.

Chapin Hall, under the leadership of Dr. Dana Weiner, Dr. Gretchen Cusick, and Jason Brennen, was tapped to complete a formative evaluation of the pilot program. The evaluation found that youth will enroll in and engage with the program, be connected to needed services, and complete the program. The youth were also less likely to incur new charges than youth charged when the program was not in place.  This preliminary evidence, coupled with other data assessed by Chapin Hall, built the foundation for an expanded implementation and outcomes evaluation, which will include five times as many youth participants over a three-year period.

Chapin Hall is conducting this evaluation in partnership with Strengthening Chicago Youth (SCY) at Lurie Children’s Hospital and the Juvenile Justice Collaborative (JJC), TASC, Inc., the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Chief Judge, the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Justice Division, and the Department of Probation and Court Services. Lurie Children’s Hospital is funding the evaluation through the American Rescue Plan Act. This funding will allow for an expansion of the care coordination model to youth in deferred prosecution and diversion programs and for Chapin Hall to monitor implementation and rigorously test the model.

“The pandemic provided an opportunity for unprecedented efforts to reduce the backlog of cases by providing care coordination of needed services to a broader set of youth,” Cusick said. “With the expansion of the care coordination model, we are able to follow up on the promising, preliminary findings to more rigorously assess program impact on a range of youth outcomes, including further court involvement.”

Due to the success of the pilot program, Cusick and the Chapin Hall team were asked to conduct a full study of the expanded program that will continue through the summer of 2025. A large part of Cusick’s work at Chapin Hall focuses on supporting the transformation of youth-serving systems and improving the responses to and experiences of youth involved with the legal system. Kya Barounis and Alyssa Broxton will be contributing to the next evaluation phase. These projects correspond with Chapin Hall’s commitment to supporting the disruption of trauma cycles by bolstering systems that provide care rather than those that have penalized and brutalized the Black and Brown population for decades.

For more information about our work on juvenile justice, contact Gretchen Cusick.