How Cities Can Reduce Recidivism for Young Adults

April 12, 2018 - (5 min read)

This is a guest post from Emily Morgan, director of content development at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center.

As jurisdictions work to increase public safety and reduce corrections costs, a growing number have been exploring strategies targeted at improving outcomes for what is often the most challenging population under justice system supervision: young adults, ages 18 to 24.

Young adults need tailored responses to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and support their successful transition to adulthood. Cities can contribute to public safety by following key recommendations from national experts.

Young adults account for a disproportionately high percentage of arrests and are the most likely age group to commit violent crimes and reoffend. Meanwhile, scientific research has demonstrated that young adulthood is a distinct period of development during which significant growth and change occurs.

This new understanding presents state and local leaders with a crucial window of opportunity to tailor justice system policies and practices to the thinking and behavior patterns shown to be characteristic of young adults in order to both better protect public safety and help young adults transition to a successful adulthood.

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The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center released Dos and Don’ts for Reducing Recidivism among Young Adults in the Justice System, a resource informed by both research and practice that presents a concrete list of strategies policymakers and justice system leaders can use to guide system changes focused on young adults in the justice system, including:

1. Minimize policy barriers for young adults

Local policies often present barriers to successful reentry for young adults. A criminal record can impede young adults’ access to the education, employment and housing they need in order to transition to a crime-free and productive adulthood.

What city leaders can do:

  • Inventory and raise awareness about state laws that may prevent young adults who have a criminal record from accessing housing, education, employment or other supports.
  • Ensure that any vocational training for incarcerated young adults returning to your city aligns with careers or credentials that are in demand locally and open to people who have a criminal record.
  • Educate constituents about eligibility for record clearance or expungement and related processes.

2. Improve coordination across systems that serve young adults

To the extent that public agencies within a given jurisdiction are providing services for young adults, there are typically limited cross-system efforts to coordinate policies and funding to ensure that resources are being used efficiently to reduce recidivism and improve other outcomes for young adults who have been in the justice system.

What city leaders can do:

  • Establish a citywide interagency task force to improve collaboration and ensure consistency in eligibility for services for young adults.
  • Map out services across the city that are available to serve young adults in the justice system and identify any gaps in services.
  • Target resources to address service gaps and invest in services that are shown to have the greatest impact.

3. Provide training on young adult development

Too often, justice system and community-based reentry professionals who interact with young adults are not equipped to successfully engage and work with this population. They may lack information on research and best practices for tailoring interventions to meet young adults’ distinct needs.

What city leaders can do:

  • Ensure the provision of specialized training on the distinct needs of young adults in the justice system for personnel who encounter or work with this population, including local law enforcement officers, supervision agency staff and service providers.
  • For cities with municipal courts, provide regular training on young adult development for judges, court personnel and prosecutors to help inform disposition and violation response decisions.

4. Support integrated programming

While most young adults have access to programming while under justice system supervision, rarely are programs adapted to address the developmental needs of this population.

What city leaders can do:

  • Ensure that programs for young adults provide wraparound supports that not only address criminal thinking and behavior, but also connect them to career pathways, behavioral health services and other services.
  • Designate city buildings as one-stop centers where programs for young adults are located together.
  • Target neighborhoods with the greatest need for support services for young adults.
  • Collect and track data on the impact of programming on recidivism and other reentry outcomes.

These recommendations were gleaned from a Young Adult Justice Convening hosted in February 2017 by the CSG Justice Center and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The convening represented an unprecedented effort to bring researchers across disciplines — including justice, child welfare, education, employment and behavioral health — together with policymakers and practitioners to review what works to improve outcomes for young adults in the justice system.

emilymorgan headshotAbout the author: Emily Morgan is the director of content development at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, providing strategic guidance and oversight in the conceptualization and production of content across all of the organization’s work.