developmentally appropriate way of handling youth who come to the attention of the juvenile justice system. However, when viewed nationally, the pace of reform has been sluggish. Many changes that have occurred have not been evaluated in a sufficiently rigorous and systematic manner to enable other reform-minded jurisdictions to undertake similar initiatives. The lack of critical data on youth characteristics, including race/ethnicity, processing at various stages of the system, and outcomes, significantly impedes tracking and evaluation of reform activities. At the local level, a lack of transparency regarding the decisions of police, prosecutors, and judges makes it difficult to understand and improve system functioning. Advances in information technology allow organizations to share data, but the complex laws governing privacy and confidentiality, as well as entrenched organizational practices, create barriers to collaboration and efficiency.


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. The specific aims of juvenile courts and affiliated agencies are to hold youth accountable for wrongdoing, prevent further offending, and treat them fairly. It is often thought that these specific aims are in tension with one another. However, when these aims and the actions taken to achieve them are viewed from a developmental point of view, the evidence shows that they are compatible with one another. This evidence is summarized below, and guiding principles for implementing a developmentally informed approach to juvenile justice reform are set forth in Box S-1.


Holding adolescents accountable for their offending vindicates the just expectation of society that responsible offenders will be answerable for wrongdoing, particularly for conduct that causes harm to identifiable victims, and that corrective action will be taken. It does not follow, however, that the mechanisms of accountability for juveniles should mimic criminal punishments. Condemnation, control, and lengthy confinement (“serving time”), the identifying attributes of criminal punishment, are not necessary features of accountability for juveniles. The research demonstrates that, if designed and implemented in a developmentally informed way, procedures specifically designed for holding adolescents accountable for their offending can promote positive legal socialization, reinforce a prosocial identity, and

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