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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s examination of a juvenile gun court operating in Jefferson County, Alabama.
The Jefferson County Juvenile Gun Court in Birmingham, Alabama, focuses on first-time juvenile gun offenders. Its core components include a 28-day boot camp, a parent education program, a substance abuse program, intensive follow-up supervision, and community service (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002). Birmingham’s juvenile gun court is administered as part of the family court and provides services to offenders and their families. The juvenile gun court seeks to provide swift consequences by reviewing incoming cases within 72 hours and trying them within 10 working days. The court also attempts to provide certain consequences by providing judges with the authority to impose mandatory detention of juvenile offenders, with judicial discretion as to whether juvenile cases are eligible for diversion. All offenders attend the 28-day boot camp, and the court can add more time to a youth’s stay for various infractions. While the juveniles attend boot camp, parents attend an education program that includes training on improving youth-parent communication skills and discussions of the impact of firearm-related violence on victims, perpetrators, and families. Parents who fail to complete the program may be arrested and jailed. After the youths return from boot camp, they are required to participate in substance abuse classes for six weeks, take mandatory weekly drug tests during this time period, and perform community service work, such as neighborhood and graffiti cleanup. Probation officers and transition aides provide intensive follow-up supervision, and parental involvement is required throughout the adjudication process.
An evaluation of the Birmingham juvenile gun court compared the case processing records and recidivism rates for three groups of juvenile gun offenders: a group of Birmingham juveniles with limited prior offenses who participated in the gun court’s core components, a group of Birmingham juveniles with prior offenses who received short juvenile correction commitments and did not receive after-care monitoring, and a comparison group of juveniles from a nearby city who did not participate in a gun court program (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002). The evaluation revealed that the Birmingham gun court group had significantly lower levels of recidivism (17 percent) than the Birmingham nongun court group (37 percent) and the comparison group (40 percent). The evaluators also found that having a prior gun offense (common to youth in the nongun court groups) increased the odds of recidivism (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002). The evaluation did not provide an estimate of the extent to which the differences among the groups in prior gun offending could account for some of the observed recidivism reductions.