Diamonds in the Rough: an Outcomes Evaluation of a Juvenile Sexual Exploitation Court


May 2023


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Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) affects many people across the globe. Of utmost concern is that many children become victims, or are at risk of becoming victims, of sexual exploitation and are often only identified upon contact with the juvenile justice system. While these youth were historically processed through the traditional juvenile justice system, diversionary courts addressing CSE have been developed as a less punitive response to this unique population. diversionary courts provide a more treatment-oriented response, though it remains unclear whether these courts are effective for sexually exploited youth. This dissertation utilizes data from a large urban Texas county to conduct an outcomes evaluation on the E.S.T.E.E.M. (Experiencing Success Through Empowerment, Encouragement, and Mentoring) court program. This program contains four phases that last approximately 30 days each, for a total of about 180 days. These four phases in ascending order are Sapphire, Emerald, Ruby, and Diamond. The title of this dissertation is a reflection of these various phases that female youth promote through. This play on words, “Diamonds in the Rough,” typically represents an individual that has immense potential that has not been developed enough. It is through the E.S.T.E.E.M. court that youth are given the tools to be deterred from delinquency and future CSE victimization. In this dissertation, recidivism is operationalized as local outcomes subsequent referrals, subsequent detentions, and subsequent supervisions) and re-arrests. The analysis aims to determine whether youths who participate in the E.S.T.E.E.M. court program are less likely to recidivate than youth who do not participate. A survival analysis is also conducted to determine the celerity of re-arrest for program participants versus non-participants. Factors associated with post-program re-arrest are examined at 12 and 24-month follow up periods. Post-hoc analyses explore descriptive longitudinal statistics related to re-arrests for program participants, reasons for non-participation, and reasons for unsuccessful program discharge. This dissertation adds to the literature by determining whether the analyzed population of youth is best served by specialty court programming and by identifying significant predictors of re-arrest for court participants. Recommendations for E.S.T.E.E.M. court include integrating trauma-informed approaches to care, allowing youth’s voice to play a role in identifying individual goals, services, and resources that are most efficacious, and ensuring that the risk-needs-responsivity (RNR) framework is utilized when considering types and frequencies of expectations/services provided.



Sociology, Criminology and Penology