Court as a Last Resort: NLC Provides Cities with Alternatives to Juvenile Incarceration
NLC has two new resources to support city leaders in helping to achieve better youth outcomes and improve public safety. These resources are provided through NLC’s ongoing partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative.
President Barack Obama recently called on city leaders to "make sure that our juvenile justice system remembers that kids are different; don't just tag them as future criminals." (photo: Jason Dixson)
A strong body of evidence shows that young people accused of crimes, particularly low-level offenses, achieve better outcomes when their development is supported in the community instead of in juvenile court interventions, such as detention and long-term placements away from home.
Our new issue brief, Alternatives to Arrest for Young People provides early examples of how law enforcement agencies can divert youth accused of minor offenses from arrest when appropriate.
Through the increased use of promising alternatives to arrest and prosecution, a growing number of cities have documented early progress and significant benefits, including:
- Fewer arrests of low-risk youth;
- Improved police-youth relations; and
- More efficient use of officers’ time.
Since the 1990s, police practices and laws, including those focused on youth, have been moving toward more punitive forms of law enforcement. Now, as juvenile crime decreases across the country but recidivism among youth involved in the juvenile justice system remains high, leaders are questioning the efficacy of the system’s punitively-focused practices.
In the same week as President Barack Obama's comments calling on leaders to "make sure that our juvenile justice system remembers that kids are different; don't tag them as future criminals," our new issue brief highlights progress city leaders are making towards that very goal.
To help city leaders and law enforcement departments consider alternatives and/or supplements to standard officer training programs, we have also developed a collection of new and proven trainings to improve relations between police officers and community members — young people in particular.
Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel notes that law enforcement thinking about the use of these zero-tolerance practices is changing. “We can't arrest our way out of the significant challenges facing our youth and communities." NLC’s new resources provide tools to cities hoping to provide other answers for what police can do when youth misbehave or are suspected of crimes.
Police practices and trainings, in conjunction with community-based services targeted to serve youth diverted from arrest, stand to achieve improved outcomes for youth, families and communities.
About the Author: Laura E. Furr is the program manager for justice reform and youth engagement in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr.