and Delinquency, 2007; Puzzanchera and Adams, 2011; Sickmund et al., 2011). Racial disparities within the juvenile justice system raise at least two types of concerns. First, they call into question the overall fairness and legitimacy of the juvenile justice system. Second, they have serious implications for the life-course trajectories of many justice-involved minority youths who may be traumatized, stigmatized, and adversely affected in other ways by criminal records attained at comparatively young ages (National Research Council, 2013).

Despite a research and policy focus on this matter for more than two decades, remarkably little progress has been made toward reducing the disparities themselves. However, at least in the past decade, some jurisdictions have begun to take significant steps to overhaul their juvenile justice systems in ways that are intended to reduce involvement of minority youths in the system, reduce the use of punitive practices, and heighten awareness of racial disparities (for more discussion, see the 2013 NRC report, Chapter 8, pp. 211-240).

In recent years, a significant number of jurisdictions have taken steps to reduce the use of juvenile detention and out-of-home placement. From 1997 to 2010, such confinement declined as much as 65 percent in some states (Sickmund et al., 2011). By 2010, the national confinement rate of juveniles in the juvenile justice system was down to 225 per 100,000 population (Child Trends, n.d.; Sickmund et al., 2011).

The complex statutes governing the jurisdictional boundary between juvenile and criminal court prosecutions are also being modified in many jurisdictions to keep more adolescents in juvenile court. For example, an increasing number of states are raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to its traditional line at 18; as of 2013, 40 states designate 18 as the maximum age of original juvenile court jurisdiction (Butts and Roman, 2014). The U.S. Supreme Court has noted the developmental basis for these ameliorative reforms in a series of recent decisions forbidding the most severe penalties, most notably the death penalty and sentences of life in prison without parole, for offenders younger than 18 (Graham v. Florida, 2010; Miller v. Alabama, 2012; National Research Council, 2013, p. 43-44; Roper v. Simmons, 2005).

Momentum for juvenile justice reform is growing, but the necessary institutional changes have not occurred in many parts of the country. According to the 2013 NRC report (pp. 3-4):

Substantial progress has been made by various states and local jurisdictions in embracing and implementing a more 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 and 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 2013 NRC report emphasized that support and leadership at the federal level are critically important to stimulate and sustain reforms within the juvenile justice system. Federal assistance is needed if state, tribal, and local jurisdictions are going to be able to put institutional structures in place and sustain effective practices aimed at keeping at-risk youths out of the juvenile justice system, providing developmentally appropriate environments for those that become involved in the system, and fostering collaborations among agencies that serve youths. The juvenile justice field needs enhanced technical assistance, training, and other kinds of consultative services to help achieve desired improvements. OJJDP has support from the field and the necessary congressional mandate to provide such assistance.


At the request of the OJJDP administrator, the National Research Council (NRC) appointed an ad hoc committee to prepare a report that would distill the findings and conclusions in the 2013 NRC report and develop a strategic plan for its implementation by OJJDP, including a prioritized set of specific actions (see Appendix C for full list of committee members). Funding for the committee’s study and report was provided by OJJDP, the Annie

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