This is best accomplished in the context of a juvenile justice system that is responsive to developmental concerns and not in the context of the adult criminal justice system with its often shared, but nonetheless differently ordered, set of priorities. For juveniles, policies and programs that are predominantly punitive neither foster prosocial development nor reduce recidivism (Howell, 2009; Lipsey, 2009). Although they may reaffirm societal values and respond to the emotional needs of the victimized, they are not consistent with a developmental perspective and are less likely to foster the primary objective of public safety. There is no convincing evidence that confinement of juvenile offenders beyond a minimum amount required to provide sufficiently intense services for them to benefit from this experience, either in adult prisons or juvenile correctional institutions, appreciably reduces the likelihood of subsequent offending. To the extent that preventing reoffending is the primary policy consideration, juvenile court dispositions should avoid lengthy confinement, adolescents should be tried in criminal court only in the most serious cases of personal violence, and criminal court sentences should avoid confinement of adolescents in adult prisons.
With exceedingly few exceptions, adolescent offenders (even serious offenders) who experience secure confinement will return to society while still relatively young but at a considerable disadvantage for success as an adult. Given this, it is in society’s interest to reduce the likelihood of continued offending by providing developmentally appropriate interventions that are rooted in what is known about adolescent development (Biglan et al., 2004; Farrington and Welsh, 2007). Forestalling future crime and building developmental strengths for offenders makes more sense in the long run than handicapping offenders by removing them from society in harsh environments and forestalling positive development in the process. This evidence for the effectiveness of developmentally sensitive interventions is bolstered by analyses of the costs and benefits of these interventions. The most comprehensive and detailed analyses of the dollars spent and saved by putting these types of programs into place show that the public savings are considerable. The advantages of many programs are not small; broad-based community interventions and theoretically sound institutional approaches all show benefits several times the costs.
This is more than simple-minded ideology. Almost all of the model programs that demonstrate impressive reductions in reoffending are rooted in a developmental perspective. Successful programs attempt to reduce the risk factors that are associated with delinquency and violence by fostering prosocial development and by building promotive factors at the individual, family, school, and peer levels. Policies and programs for the range of adolescent offenders, including those that take place in secure confinement, should be based on these same core principles of successful intervention.