Getting Started in Juvenile Justice Efforts

City leaders and juvenile justice reformers alike want to create juvenile justice systems that are evidence-based, fair and more effectively hold youth accountable and help them become successful, productive adults.  Below are some concrete areas of overlap between the principles of Models of Change and the progress local leaders have already made toward a better juvenile justice system.

Ensure Fair Treatment for All Youth
Despite efforts across the country to ensure that all youth are treated equally, evidence continues to show that decision-makers in the juvenile justice system treat black and brown young people more harshly than white young people. However, hope and momentum are building based on a rededication of decades-old efforts and acceptance by many that reform must take place at every level of the system and dismantle deeply entrenched policies and practices. By setting local goals and measuring progress using the most locally-specific data possible, Hartford, Conn. has been able to make a concrete difference in the successful re-entry of youth by ensuring that the demographics of youth admitted to their summer jobs program matches the demographics, including juvenile records and foster care placements, of their youth population.

Improve Public Safety Based on Evidence of Effectiveness
Research shows that holding youth accountable while focusing on their social and emotional development makes communities safer than implementing the punitive policies in place in many areas. A punitive juvenile justice system, i.e. one that uses shackles, confinement and public criminal records, increases the risk that a young person will commit future, more violent crimes. Cities that strive to meet the needs of individual families and young people through community-based services reduce the risk of future harm to the community. The Baltimore City PACT (Pre-Adjudication Coordination and Training) Center improved outcomes for youth held in the community before trial rather than the local detention center.

Increase Efficiency and Cost-Savings through Rational Reforms
In a resource-strapped economy, tailoring expenditure of dollars to the most efficient and effective use of those dollars is the most rational course of action. However, in criminal and juvenile justice, that has not been the trend for the last few decades, so much so that one in every 100 Americans is incarcerated.  The most effective recent reforms tailor evidence-based responses to youth by analyzing how much risk that young person poses to the community, rather than acting on a subjective “gut feeling,” and have saved local governments like Jefferson Parish, La. unnecessary detention and services costs.

Base Policies on the Developmental Realities of Adolescence
Adolescence is a developmental period characterized by immaturity, risk-taking and poor decision-making, and reforms should be made with this reality in mind. These issues often come to the forefront at the very beginning of a youth’s involvement with the court system – interactions with police. Taking this into account, several communities have applied evidence-based alternatives to arrest protocols and police trainings that seek to reduce the risk to both youth and officers during encounters in the community, thereby improving outcomes for youth charged with offenses such as shoplifting and intra-familial disputes.