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Program Profile: Special Needs Diversionary Program (SNDP)

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on December 28, 2015

Program Summary

This diversion program provides intensive supervision and treatment for juvenile probationers with mental illness. This program is rated Promising. Rearrests within 1 year were significantly lower for program participants, compared with non-participants. Although SNDP did not significantly affect the time to rearrest, the diversion program had an overall positive impact on juvenile offenders with mental illness.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Special Needs Diversionary Program (SNDP) was designed for juvenile offenders with mental illness. Developed in 2001 in North Texas, SNDP provides mental health treatment in conjunction with specialized probation supervision to juveniles who display low levels of conduct and mental health disorders, with the aim of rehabilitating and preventing them from falling further into the criminal justice system. The SNDP program offers mental health services (including individual and group therapy), probation services (including life skills, mentoring, and anger management), and parental education and support. Specialized juvenile probation and professional mental health staff from the local mental health centers work together to coordinate intensive case-management services.
Target Population/Eligibility
Juvenile offenders are placed into the SNDP after a referral to the program and an evaluation based upon established eligibility criteria. The referrals may initiate from a court intake officer, court order, or field officer supervising the juvenile. Referred youths are identified as needing more intensive and structured services than those provided by traditional probation units.
To be eligible to participate in SNDP, youths between the ages of 10 and 17 must be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court (either adjudicated to formal probation or have deferred adjudication dispositions) and have an Axis I diagnosis by a mental health professional. Youths also need to have at least 6 months remaining in their case supervision and have a parent or guardian consent to participate. Parents or guardians also need to be willing to participate in program activities. Youths with certain mental health diagnoses (such as mental retardation and stand-alone pervasive developmental disorders) are not eligible to participate in SNDP.  
Program Components
SNDP involves collaboration between mental health and juvenile justice officials to provide treatment to reduce recidivism. Once a case is referred to the SNDP, the program follows procedures based upon typical wraparound strategies. For each case, a therapist and SNDP probation officer are assigned to conduct individualized treatment and case management.

Service teams provide intensive community-based services with support from probation officers, mental health personnel, and the community. Services provided to juveniles include individual and family therapy, rehabilitation services, skills training, and chemical dependency education. An initial plan for the juvenile entering supervision services must be completed within the first 72 hours after the juvenile enters the program. Plans are prepared with input from the juvenile, family, and mental health professional. A formal case plan review is conducted on a monthly basis with input from all parties involved in the program.

Parents/guardians and family members of the juvenile offender are also required to participate. Each juvenile and family receive three to five contacts a week by the SNDP team, including unscheduled home visits from the selected probation officer and scheduled home visits from the therapist once a week.
Two months prior to completion of the program, the service team, juvenile, and family members work together to develop an aftercare plan to increase support from the community and family once the formal services have ended. The treatment plan includes a transition period beginning no later than 2 months prior to the projected discharge date of the program.
Key Personnel
The therapist and SNDP probation officers are assigned to a maximum of 20 juvenile cases. The coordination of caseloads builds the close working relationship between the probation officer and the therapist. Each month, the service team meets to reassess the needs of the juvenile and determine the level of engagement needed by the youth and family to successfully achieve goals. Furthermore, SNDP probation officers can hold enrolled youths accountable for program participation. Working together with therapists, youths, and family members, probation officers assist in determining clients’ criminogenic needs and developing appropriate treatment plans. The therapist works to provide rehabilitative services to the youth and family members to address their identified needs.
Program Theory
Programs such as SNDP are designed to be treatment-oriented, based on the theory of therapeutic jurisprudence (Cuellar et al. 2006; Wexler 2000). This theory is based on the assumption that problem-solving responses are more appropriate than punishment for certain individuals. Within the context of the therapeutic jurisprudence theory, it is argued that legal rules and procedures can be used to improve the mental and physical well-being of clients (that is, juvenile offenders with mental health disorders) within the criminal justice system. The emphasis is on the selection of a therapeutic option that promotes health, but does not conflict with the normative values of the justice system such as due process (Rottman and Casey 1999). With regard to SNDP, diversion programs can improve coordination across justice and social service agencies (Cuellar et al. 2006). According to the therapeutic jurisprudence approach, including mental health in juvenile diversion programs can help reduce recidivism and the severity of crimes committed by offenders with mental health disorders.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Cuellar and colleagues (2006) evaluated rearrests of juveniles who participated in the Special Needs Diversion Program (SNDP). Results indicate that the SNDP significantly reduced the total number of rearrests within 1 year, compared with youths not enrolled in the program. For youths in the program, the average predicted number of rearrests was 0.86 within 1 year, compared with 1.54 rearrests for youths not enrolled in the program. This meant that 63 fewer arrests occurred per 100 youths served by the program, over a 1-year period.
Time to Rearrest
The study also looked at the time to rearrest (for those youths who were rearrested), to examine the extent to which SNDP affected the length of time spent arrest-free. However, there was no statistically significant difference between the groups on time to rearrest.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Cuellar and colleagues (2006) evaluated the Special Needs Diversion Program (SNDP) in the following six counties in Texas: Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Tarrant, and Travis. Administrative data was used to link mental health diagnoses to juvenile offenses. The administrative data from the juvenile justice system was linked to data on youths’ mental health diagnoses. The administrative data included offense type, date of court referral, adjudication, and disposition. Data on mental health status was obtained using the computerized, self-administered Voice Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (V-DISC) at intake. Youths were given a brief, standardized mental-health-screening test. The youths who scored high enough on the test took the V-DISC survey. Only those with mental health disorders determined by the V-DISC survey were eligible for participation in the SNDP program. Youths with cases transferred to adult court were not eligible for participation.
A total of 299 youths, aged 13 to 16, participated in the study. The intervention group included 148 youths who were referred to the SNDP program and whose index crimes were not status offenses. The comparison group consisted of 151 youths who were eligible for SNDP, but were placed on a waiting list for services. Youths in the intervention group were matched with youths in the wait-list comparison group, using a propensity score matching technique based on gender, age, race, the number of previous offenses prior to the index offense, felony, type of mental disorder, enrollment in special education, the highest level of education completed before the index offense (between 1999 and 2000), if the youth repeated a school year, and county of residence.
Youths were observed between March 2000 and June 2003. Types of mental disorders included in the analysis were anxiety disorder, disruptive disorder, substance abuse disorder, and affective disorder. Most youths in the sample were male (66 percent of the intervention group and 68 percent of the comparison group) and Hispanic (41 percent of the intervention group and 34 percent of the comparison group), followed by white and Asian (40 percent of the intervention group and 38 percent of the comparison group) and African American (19 percent of the intervention group and 28 percent of the comparison group). The intervention and comparison groups did not significantly differ on demographic characteristics at baseline.
Three statistical analyses were conducted. First, negative binomial regression models were used to estimate the reduction in rearrests due to mental health diversion over a 1-year period. The second and third analyses used Cox proportional hazard models to examine the impact of mental health diversion on the time to rearrest for any offense and for felony crimes.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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The Special Needs Diversion Program (SNDP) is administered collaboratively by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments. The programmatic structure of SNDP includes a specialized juvenile probation officer from local juvenile probation departments teamed with a licensed mental health professional. Professionals are required to maintain weekly contact with juveniles and their families.
The duration of the program is based on the recommendations of the clinical team and on the specific needs of the family. Case plans, transition plans, aftercare plans, and discharge plans are required to address family and youth needs.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Cuellar, Alison E., Larkin McReynolds, and Gail Wasserman. 2006. “A Cure for Crime: Can Mental Health Treatment Diversion Reduce Crime among Youth?” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 25(1):197–214.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Jeong, Seokjin, Byung Lee, and Julie Martin. 2014. “Evaluating the Effectiveness of a Special Needs Diversionary Program in Reducing Reoffending Among Mentally Ill Youthful Offenders.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 58(9):1058–80. (This study was reviewed but did not meet Crime Solutions' criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

Posey, John. 2012. Mentally Ill Offenders in the Juvenile Justice System and the Specialized Needs Diversionary Program. Austin, Texas: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.

Rottman, David, and Pamela Casey. 1999. “Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Emergence of Problem-Solving Courts.” National Institute of Justice Journal 240:12–19.

Skowyra, Kathleen, and Susan Davidson Powell. 2006. Juvenile Diversion: Programs for Justice-Involved Youth with Mental Health Disorders. Research and Program Brief. New York: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice

Spriggs, Vicki. 2010. Overview of the Special Needs Diversionary Program for Mentally Ill Juvenile Offenders: Fiscal Year 2010. Austin, Texas: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.

Wexler, David. 2000. “Therapeutic Jurisprudence: An Overview.Thomas M. Cooley Law Review 17:125–37.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Juvenile Diversion Programs
An intervention strategy that redirects youths away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system, while still holding them accountable for their actions. The practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism rates of juveniles who participated in diversion programming compared with juveniles who were formally processed in the justice system.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Age: 13 - 16

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting, Courts

Program Type: Alcohol and Drug Therapy/Treatment, Diversion, Group Therapy, Individual Therapy, Probation/Parole Services, Wraparound/Case Management, Court Processing

Targeted Population: Mentally Ill Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Alison Cuellar
Associate Professor
Department of Health Administration and Policy, George Mason University
MS:1J3, 4400 University Drive
Fairfax VA 22030-4444
Phone: 703.993.5048