Reducing the Presence of Young Adults in Jail

reduce ya jail
reduce ya jail

The YEF Institute supports city leaders' efforts to implement policies and practices that reduce the presences of youth and young adults (aged 18 - 24) in jail, and that reduce or eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the use of jail.

As a growing number of cities across the country address criminal justice reform, NLC joins the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge to provide cities with tools and support to reduce the overuse of jails for young adults.

New Resources

The National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) invites member cities to apply with a county partner to participate in the newly-formed Intergovernmental Policy Academy: Young Adults and the Justice System. City and county teams must be from one of 12 eligible states, including Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. 

NLC introduces cities to the issues stemming from the overuse and misuse of jails, opportunities for city leadership to reduce the use of jails and attendant disparities, action steps to get started, and examples from around the country. The NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families developed these resources through its strategic alliance with the Safety and Justice Challenge of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 

City Strategies to Reduce the Use of Jails for Young Adults

City Strategies to Support Alternatives to Arrest for People with Substance Abuse Treatment Needs

How Cities Can Provide Alternatives to Jails and Improve Outcomes for Young Adults with Mental Health Concerns

How Cities Affect Jail Populations

Cities can contribute to a reduction in jail populations through policies and procedures for stopping and arresting young adults, as well as city support for diversion options. The recent increase in jail use has resulted in negative outcomes for jailed individuals, their families, and neighborhoods. In order to reverse this trend, city officials need to understand arrest data in their city and find evidence-based means of addressing law-breaking behavior.

Law Enforcement's Role

By providing specialized law enforcement training and building locally-validated decision-making tools, cities can increase the options for officers to divert people who do not pose a public safety risk. Early diversion can reduce the number of young adults in jail unnecessarily, increase officers' time on the street, and thus improve public safety.

City officials recognize that, in many communities, African-Americans and other young adults of color go to jail at a higher rate than their white peers. Cities can positively affect this trend by applying local arrest data to the development and tracking of early diversion tools, policies, and practices.

A System of High-Quality Community-Based Alternatives to Jail

City leaders serve as key collaborators and conveners with local jail administrators, law enforcement, and community-based service providers. A collaboratively-built system of high-quality, community-services can address the unmet mental health and substance use treatment needs of many of the young adults who currently go to jail, making better use of scarce community resources and resulting in improved long-term outcomes.

Research on cognitive development confirms the common sense notion that young adults do not automatically mature at the age of 18. In fact, it can take until age 25 to complete brain development related to decision-making and risk-taking. By incorporating the implications of this research into training and policy discussions, cities can increase the chances that young adults will thrive.