of further offending) appropriately to available levels of supervision and services (Aos et al., 2004; Howell, 2009; Mulvey, 2005; Mulvey and Iselin, 2008; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995). Collection of a wide variety of information ensures a more dynamic view of adolescents and their behaviors and reflects a shift from predicting risk (20th-century juvenile justice) to managing risk (21st-century developmentally informed juvenile justice). This approach places less emphasis on categories of offending and more emphasis on the malleable factors that may contribute to antisocial behavior in each case.
These assessments also can identify factors that help to differentiate youths at lower risk of re-offending—who can be handled through diversion or in community-based settings from higher-risk youths—for whom more intensive and/or expansive interventions should be provided. The use of these tools focuses system resources where they are most likely to provide a return in reduced offending and positive adolescent development. Successful matching of the adolescent to requisite services (e.g., with validated risk/need assessment tools) is thus critical for several goals: successful treatment, reintegration into the community, and reduced recidivism.
Among youths charged with serious offenses who are subject to prosecution in the criminal justice system, individualized determinations by prosecutors and judges are needed about whether an adolescent will be tried as an adult and what sentence is imposed upon conviction in a criminal court. These judgments would take into account the features of adolescent decision making and judgment that affect their culpability and amenability to change, compared with adults who have committed similar transgressions (Grisso et al., 2003; National Research Council, 2013, pp. 130-136; Scott and Grisso, 2005).3
Consistent research findings show that negative effects and outcomes for juveniles are associated with lengthy confinement and severe conditions. In extreme cases, youths who are confined have been exposed to sexual abuse, extended isolation or solitary confinement, use of restraints, inadequate educational and behavioral health services, and untrained staff (American Civil Liberties Union, 2013; Beck et al., 2013; National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center, 2010; Wasserman et al., 2004). According to the 2013 NRC report (National Research Council, 2013, p. 155):
… institutional treatment programs generally have an unimpressive record for reducing reoffending and that large, overcrowded facilities with limited treatment programs (in which custody trumps treatment concerns) often have high recidivism rates (Ezell, 2007; Trulson et al., 2007). At the same time, there are empirically sound and convincing reports indicating that theoretically grounded, adequately staffed, and well-documented programs for seriously violent youth that involve institutional care can produce impressive and fiscally advantageous effects (Barnoski, 2004; Caldwell, Vitaceo, and Van Rybrock, 2006; Caldwell et al., 2006).
As noted above, a key hallmark of a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform is developing alternatives to justice system involvement. Even when youths are adjudicated as delinquent, alternatives to confinement often serve the goals of the system. This does not necessitate all service provision being outside of placement settings, as residential placement of some adolescents is necessary from a public safety perspective. Studies have shown, however, that confinement of juveniles beyond the minimum amount needed to deliver intensive services effectively is not only wasteful economically but also potentially harmful, and it may impede prosocial development (National Research Council, 2013). When adolescents are assigned to residential placements, their environments should be conducive to positive development as well as providing appropriate services and treatment to address
3The Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Roper v. Simmons (2005), Graham v. Florida (2010), and Miller v. Alabama (2012) emphasize that adolescents’ diminished culpability and amenability to change preclude the most severe punishments altogether and also should discourage lengthy mandatory sentences. As noted by the 2013 NRC report, this principle also should require individualized assessment of a juvenile as a prerequisite to trial in criminal court. See, for example, Roper v. Simmons (2005), p. 568, where the Supreme Court recognized that the choices of adolescents are influenced by factors integral to their stage of development, stating “… blameworthiness is diminished, to a substantial degree, by reason of youth and immaturity,” and Graham v. Florida (2010), pp. 50-51, where the Supreme Court recognized that a juvenile offender may exhibit a “capacity for change” and should be given “a chance to demonstrate maturity and reform.”