Probation officers need to evaluate juveniles in the court system more quickly and consistently, and the courts need to better monitor the vendors they use for juvenile treatment services, according to a state audit released Tuesday.
Although probation officers test 95 percent of juveniles in the system on how likely they will commit another offense, 25 percent of juveniles have at least one offense for which they haven’t received that assessment, the audit said. Also, 67 percent of those assessments are conducted too late, and judges have to prescribe sentences and treatment programs without that information.
For almost half of the juveniles on probation in fiscal year 2006, probation officers didn’t follow standard procedure for assessing mental health, substance abuse, and educational and family needs. The audit recommended the court develop a better procedure for assessing those needs. Also, probation officers didn’t typically look for a juvenile’s strengths, which can be used to reinforce good behavior.
In 2007, the state appropriated more than $54 million for juvenile supervision and treatment programs, according to the audit. About $22.7 million went to treatment, including group homes and sex offender and substance abuse programs.
The Administrative Office of the Courts for the Arizona Supreme Court contracts with 161 vendors to provide these services. The audit complimented Administrative Office of the Courts’ “comprehensive” process for contracting its vendors, but said oversight of the vendors is insufficient due to personnel shortages.
Auditors found the office sometimes takes months or more than a year to resolve noncompliance issues. A random sample showed that of 16 vendor visits in 2006, the office took on average more than 60 days to issue a report of the visit, more than 26 days to get a vendor’s correction plan and more than 48 days to approve the plan.
Four auditors from the Office of the Auditor General began the audit in January, said Dale Chapman, the audit’s manager. Their work included interviewing probation officers; reviewing statistics, files and procedures; and studying practices in other states. They will follow up every six months for the next two years to ensure the Administrative Office of the Courts is complying with the audit.
Efforts to address the problems are “already under way,” wrote Administrative Office of the Courts administrative director David K. Byers in a letter to the Office of the Auditor General. As part of its response, Maricopa County Superior Court is working to create a “rapid response” plan for “high-risk and high-need juveniles in detention,” wrote Carol Boone, chief juvenile probation officer, in a letter to the auditor general.