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Structured Decision-Making and the Disposition Matrix

I. Purpose of Structured Decision-Making

     The mission of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is to “increase public safety by reducing juvenile delinquency through effective prevention, intervention and treatment services that strengthen families and turn around the lives of troubled youth.” As the agency responsible for the entire continuum of juvenile justice interventions, we are obligated to concentrate staff and programmatic resources in what we know works: community-based practice and programming. As we work to expand home-based interventions and reduce reliance on expensive residential facilities for youth who can be served safely and effectively in the community, we must also develop data-driven, research-based guidelines to help our staff determine which youth will receive what level of supervision.

     As the nation’s largest juvenile justice agency, we are well positioned to be a leader in the field. Employing Structured Decision-Making (SDM) is one important way in which we can become a model for best practices. By examining statewide data and aligning our policies with the best evidence available concerning effective interventions, DJJ has developed a disposition matrix that will assist probation staff in making informed and consistent disposition recommendations. SDM has several benefits; It:

  • Reflects DJJ’s expertise as to which youth are and are not appropriate for residential placement, intensive alternatives to placement, probation, diversion and civil citation;
  • Helps ensure that DJJ’s resources are focused on the youth that need them most;
  • Reduces the use of overly intensive interventions for lower risk youth—a practice that has consistently shown to increase recidivism and thereby jeopardize public safety;
  • Promotes judicial disposition decision-making that distinguishes treatment needs from level of restrictiveness; and
  • Promotes equity and fairness by ensuring that youth with similar offenses and risk levels will receive similar disposition recommendations.

     By weighing offense severity along with risk to reoffend, the disposition matrix has also been designed as a classification tool to help DJJ staff determine the most appropriate level of supervision for youth. This tool is not meant to replace the expertise and creativity of our staff. Instead, the hope is to capitalize on those traits while also recognizing the need for a consistent, research-based approach that applies across Florida’s 20 judicial circuits and 67 counties.

     The Department’s continuing goal is to develop a continuum of care that provides the most effective and most cost-effective interventions in the least restrictive environment. As we expand the scope of community-based services, supervision, and sanctions for youth, strong policy guidelines are essential to ensure that those resources are appropriately targeted and that we are able to prioritize delinquency interventions that work best to protect public safety and outcomes for the youth entrusted to our care and supervision. Accordingly, the disposition matrix is founded on the premise that whenever possible, attempts to safely supervise and deliver services to youth in their homes and in their communities should be fully exhausted before making a recommendation for residential placement.

II. Implementation Guidelines and General Principles for DJJ Staff:

  • Staff should begin with the least restrictive setting within the particular allowable recommendation range indicated.
    • If a youth has previously received and was unsuccessful in a particular sanction, staff may move to the next setting within the recommended disposition category.
    • Youth who successfully completed a previous supervision level should be considered to receive the same or an enhanced version of that service.
  • Gaps in community-based services to address a youth’s needs should not be the basis for placement in a residential commitment program. If appropriate services could be delivered in the community, but are unavailable staff shall notify their supervisor of the need to enhance the community-based setting.
    • Supervisors will work with Senior Circuit staff to identify services that could potentially be acquired through a rate agreement or direct contract.
    • Attempts to safely supervise and deliver services to youth in their homes and in their communities should be fully exhausted before making a recommendation for residential placement.
  • Staff may not deviate up or down from the recommended disposition category using the above standards without the expressed written approval of their Chief Probation Officer or designee.
    • A case must be made that clearly and specifically supports why the Department’s recommendation should deviate from the disposition matrix.
  • Under no circumstances will staff recommend residential commitment of any kind for a youth who is identified as low-risk to reoffend without written consent of either the Assistant Secretary for Probation or for Residential Services.
  • Under no circumstances will staff recommend that a youth be transferred to the adult court on the State Attorney Recommendation form.
    • The Department firmly believes that appropriate juvenile services and sanctions can be provided to youth charged with even the most severe offenses.
    • Staff may continue to provide or assist with pre-disposition reports and pre-sentence investigations as requested or ordered by the court.