Guiding Principles for Juvenile Justice Reform

The overarching goal of the juvenile justice system is to support prosocial development of youth who become involved in the system and thereby ensure the safety of communities. Juvenile courts and affiliated agencies specifically aim to hold youth accountable for wrongdoing, prevent further offending, and treat youth fairly. Actions taken to achieve these aims should be designed and carried out in a developmentally informed manner.


  • Use the justice system to communicate the message that society expects youth to take responsibility for their actions and the foreseeable consequences of their actions.
  • Encourage youth to accept responsibility for admitted or proven wrongdoing, consistent with protecting their legal rights.
  • Facilitate constructive involvement of family members in the proceedings to assist youth to accept responsibility and carry out the obligations set by the court.
  • Use restitution and community service as instruments of accountability to victims and the community.
  • Use confinement sparingly and only when needed to respond to and prevent serious reoffending.
  • Avoid collateral consequences of adjudication, such as public release of juvenile records, that reduce opportunities for a successful transition to a prosocial adult life.

Preventing Reoffending

  • Use structured risk/needs assessment instruments to identify lowrisk youth who can be handled less formally in community-based

wide reform efforts as well as individual programs should have clearly stated goals and objectives that can be measured scientifically, either on an individual site basis or across many sites. A plan for collecting and analyzing the necessary data should also be developed and the assessment made public.

Recommendation 1: State and tribal governments should establish a bipartisan, multistakeholder task force or commission, under the aus-

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