A case decided in Family Court of the State of New York, Queens County related to several juveniles alleged to be juvenile delinquents was decided on November 23, 2010. Eight different juveniles were brought before the Court for a dispositional hearing after it was determined that they had committed at least one crime that would be considered a serious offense if an adult had done the same thing.
In the process of investigating the circumstances of these acts, it was inadvertently discovered that the New York City Department of Probation used a computer-based program that gave females more favorable results and less serious dispositional recommendations than it did to males who committed the same act.
In the matter of Geraldine A., the juvenile allegedly committed crimes of Grand Larceny, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, and Attempted Assault. The girl was under the age of 15 when she allegedly stopped a woman and her daughter on the street and attacked her by pulling her hair, choking her, and punching her in the head. Her daughter was also attacked, which resulted with a bruise on her face. The Probation Department report stated that Geraldine attended school 84 percent of the time, lived with her mother who was able to supervise her, and that she had not been in trouble with the law before this incident. There was no gang activity noted, no alcohol, no substance abuse, or mental health issued. It was recommended that an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal be granted.
The Court became aware that the Probation Department routinely used a diagnostic tool known as the Probation Assessment Tool (PAT). When this department refused to release a copy to the court without a written order, the PAT report was produced after the written order was declared. The Department of Probation had argued that the information therein was sensitive and that the report was exempt under the Freedom of Information Law.
The updated probation report contained misleading information, such as the fact that Geraldine was attending school more frequently and was doing better in her subjects at school. Other discrepancies were also in the report, such as the fact that the girl’s mother supervised her behavior when it was found that the mother had little control over her daughter and that the girl did not follow her mother’s rules. PAT is used to assess points that are called the juvenile’s “asset level,” which can be low, medium, or high. The report then recommends which actions should be taken, depending on the asset level of the juvenile. Some important questions related to the juvenile’s behavior are not included in determining the asset level. Although the supervising probation officer reviews the recommendations, he or she may override the dispositional recommendation of the investigating probation officer and make a different recommendation in the case.
The probation officer who prepared Geraldine’s report testified that males receive fewer points than females, but after reviewing some of the PAT reports from the past said that he could not definitely say that this was true in all cases. He also testified that males usually receive zero points in the gender section, whereas girls normally are given 14 points. This is a definite advantage for girls, as in the case of Geraldine whose 14 gender points raised her score to 38 points, which put her in the high asset category. Without these 14 gender points, she would have had 24 points and would have had medium assets. If she had been in the medium asset category, some type of probation supervision would have been required. Geraldine was found by the Court to be a juvenile delinquent and was therefore placed under supervision for 12 months.
In another case, the Probation Department was ordered by the Court to investigate the circumstances surrounding the case of Tiffany H., a 14 year-old girl who had admitted to Unlawful Possession of Weapons by Persons Under Sixteen. The girl denied that she took the knife to school and said that someone put it into her book bag. The PAT report in this case also did not reflect the true facts of the juvenile’s behavior. Tiffany missed 41 classes in March of 2009 and 24 classes in April. Since her attendance for the year was over 50 percent, she was awarded 11 asset points for attending school regularly. The girl also had a 45-day suspension on June 7, 2010 for “intimidating and bullying behavior,” a 5-day suspension on March 24, 2010 for bringing alcohol to school for a friend’s birthday, and another suspension on January 1, 2010 for fighting at school. She also received an 8-day suspension on September 24, 2009 for possessing a weapon other than a firearm at school, and a 5-day suspension on March 21, 2007 for shoving and pushing.
Tiffany changed schools and improved her academic performance. The PAT report gave her 14 points for her female gender, 6 points for the absence of prior arrests, and 11 points for school attendance the three months before her arrest. She also received 5 points for no history of drug or alcohol use. Her total score was 36. In her case, the Court took her school suspensions and other information into consideration and declared her a juvenile delinquent. She was placed on probation for 12 months. It was found that the PAT completely ignored the fact that Tiffany had been absent from school numerous days, was failing classes, and had been suspended several times for serious offences like weapons and fighting. The only factor that PAT considered was her school attendance in the three months before her latest arrest. If 14 points for her gender were added into her score, she would have had 22 points that would have put her in the medium asset level that requires probation.
Another case of a male who had been charged with Assault as a Hate Crime, Assault, and Menacing, the Respondent and three other students attacked another student. The victim had a small cut above his eyebrow. The Probation Department requested that the boy not be declared a juvenile delinquent. They also suggested that no supervised probation was needed. The boy had no prior legal record, was an excellent student, and had good attendance at school with no school disciplines.
When calculating the boy’s asset score, zero points were given for his gender and zero points for being under 15 years of age. In the cases of the two girls above, both were given points in these two categories. His score was only 21 points, but had he received the additional 14 points that the girls received, his score would have been 35 points, which would be in the high asset level. The boy was not declared a juvenile delinquent by the Court.
In another case, a male named Jaheem S. was charged with robbery for stealing a cell phone from the pocket of the victim. At the time of the hearing, Jaheem had an overall 75 percent average in his classes and was reported to not be a behavior problem. The Department of Education reported that he was suspended for possessing a weapon at school, which ended up being a lighter. The boy’s guidance counselor and others at the school reported that he had experienced a change in behavior, was uncooperative, and that his grades had fallen to 62 percent. The PAT assessed him at 21 points with no note of the change in his school attendance or behavior at school. The report considered only the three months before the arrest when making the report. His score of 21 put him in the medium asset category. Because the report recommended that the juvenile be placed away from the community, this showed that the probation officer and supervising officer conducted an override of the PAT recommendation.
Two contradictory factors were discovered in Jaheem’s case. If he would have been a female in the same circumstances, he would have received 14 additional asset points, raising his score to 35 points, which is considered to be a high asset level. The difference between the two levels is that without these 14 points, Jaheem would have been placed on probation. Also, if he had not received the 10 asset points for successful academic performance, he would have landed in the low asset level with only 11 points. The PAT report would have then recommended that he be placed in intensive probation. He was declared by the Court to be a juvenile delinquent and was required to be on probation for 18 months and complete 300 hours of community service. He had to also pay $300 to the victim for the cell phone.
Other similar discrepancies were also shown in a variety of other cases to be a problem in correctly analyzing the need for a juvenile’s need to be supervised by a probation officer. The Court found that the PAT program is not based upon valid data and that it is prejudiced against males by not assigning 14 points to them for their gender. It was also found that female delinquents were also harmed by the PAT because they were less likely to receive the help and services that they needed when their asset scores were inflated by 14 points for being female.