SDM® Model in Juvenile Justice

Evident Change works to improve outcomes for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Toward this goal, we engage with and provide solutions for caseworkers, probation officers, courts, families, law enforcement agencies, schools, and community-based organizations.

We help our clients answer their questions with the data they already have, giving them the ability to tailor their system improvement efforts. Our analysts collaborate with agency decision makers and staff. We also provide technical assistance and consulting to support ongoing accountability and quality improvement processes, illuminate agency decision structures and service populations, and improve practice to achieve strategic goals.

The Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model for juvenile justice is an evidence- and research-based system that identifies the key points in the life of a juvenile justice case and uses structured assessments that are valid, reliable, equitable, and useful. The model includes the following.

  • Detention screening instruments identify the likelihood of a youth committing a future offense during a specific and short period of time: before the adjudication hearing. This information helps determine whether a secure setting should be considered while a youth awaits an initial custody hearing.
  • Actuarial risk assessments structure decision points, helping agencies know where to allocate resources and target interventions. Evident Change works with jurisdictions to design and implement actuarial risk assessment instruments to help make decisions about cases following adjudication. These decisions involve determining the disposition of a case and whether a youth can be safely diverted from the juvenile justice system.
  • A disposition matrix is used to promote consistency and equity in dispositional recommendations according to the severity of the current offense and risk of future return to the system. This ensures that youth in similar situations will have similar and appropriate decisions at their case disposition.
  • Once appropriate sanctions and programs have been determined, post-disposition decisions and case management tools are used to inform ongoing supervision and decisions relevant to the care and well-being of juvenile justice system-involved youth. Examples of post-disposition decisions and case management tools can include the following: a response matrix, which guides probation and/or parole officers on available sanctions and rewards for youth currently being supervised in the community; and a custody and housing assessment that helps staff decide how to group youth to ensure the protection of all detained youth and helps to alert staff to any special needs youth may have.