Adolescent offenders are different from adult offenders, and their risk-taking behavior, including illegal activity, is often a predictable and transient feature of adolescence itself. Knowledge about the developmental features of adolescence has important implications for juvenile justice policy, providing the framework for a system that is fair to young offenders and effective in promoting legal socialization and reducing youth crime. An important opportunity for major policy reform exists because juvenile justice policy makers are increasingly aware of the developing body of research on adolescence and increasingly receptive to reforms grounded in a developmental perspective.
Many gaps in understanding remain. The experiential evidence is impressive in reform jurisdictions, but there is still little systematic empirical evidence that the major policy initiatives described in this report (see Chapter 9) have reduced delinquency and have done so at a reasonable cost. However, even in the absence of definitive evaluations of major reforms, the committee is convinced that the impressive body of research on adolescent development and the effects of juvenile justice interventions and programs is now sufficiently robust to provide a solid foundation for juvenile justice policy and for guiding policies and practices as knowledge continues to develop.
In this chapter, we describe several key components of an ongoing process for achieving and sustaining developmentally based juvenile justice reform: clarification of the goals of the juvenile justice system; robust inter-agency collaboration; strategic commitments by state, local, and tribal governments to an ongoing, transparent, multistakeholder process of designing,
implementing and evaluating reform; a strengthened supporting role for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); a comprehensive research program on adolescent development and juvenile justice; and an improved statistical system.
CLARITY OF PURPOSE
Juvenile justice is a complex, multiagency system with multiple goals that often are perceived to be in tension with one another. The formal goals and purposes of juvenile justice have varied from place to place and from era to era (Bernard and Kurlychek, 2010). The origins of modern juvenile justice can be traced back to the 19th century, but many salient features of the current system have emerged more recently. In the 1970s, juvenile proceedings became subject to the constitutional vision of fundamental fairness, a challenge that has not yet been fully met. In the 1980s and 1990s, many states modified the mission of their juvenile systems to incorporate a greater emphasis on punishment and incapacitation. Some states later reversed some of those policies, but the statutory mission of juvenile justice continues to evolve. Lawmakers today are more likely to require the juvenile system to hold young offenders accountable for their law violations and to include “proportionate” sanctions in the statutes setting forth the goals of juvenile courts—as the states of Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Rhode Island have done. Other states—Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Vermont, and West Virginia—still emphasize prevention and rehabilitation in their legal frameworks. In most states, the formal mission of the juvenile system is a mix of rehabilitation and public safety.
Despite these historical swings of emphasis, the basic legal structure of juvenile justice has survived since it was first conceived in 1899—a separate noncriminal court charged with responding to juvenile offending and emphasizing crime prevention rather than punishment. Tensions lie beneath the surface, and the interactions between law enforcement agencies and child welfare agencies will always reflect some differences in mission and perspective. However, the committee thinks that these complexities can be managed successfully within a developmental framework.
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 youth fairly. As we have explained in this report, these aims are compatible with one another and can all be achieved if they are implemented within a developmental framework. Guiding prin-
ciples for implementing a developmentally informed approach to juvenile justice reform are set forth in Box 11-1.
A developmental approach to juvenile justice often requires a greater institutional reach than delivering court-ordered services or imposing sanctions for wrongdoing. The juvenile justice system has to devise interventions that help youth develop the strong sense of belonging that fosters positive attachments to prosocial adults, peers, and communities. To avoid criminal behavior, youth need access to positive and rewarding learning experiences. They need help navigating the school system and with gaining real work experience and developing sound job readiness skills. Like all adolescents, justice-involved youth also need to participate in vigorous physical activities and learn to have fun without breaking the law. They need access to a diverse array of activities, supports, and opportunities for normal development. These resources also need to be delivered in an environment that is itself developmentally appropriate and conducive to healthy development.
This complex mission makes it impossible for the agencies of the juvenile justice system to operate alone. Juvenile court judges typically cannot ensure that public schools work effectively with youth. Probation officers cannot guarantee that young people have access to stable housing. Prosecutors typically cannot provide youth and their families with access to the labor market and the personal resources to obtain and hold onto steady jobs. The very mission of the juvenile justice system requires it to be interorganizational, cross-sector, and multidisciplinary. In every one of these other systems and service sectors, however, justice-involved youth may be the least attractive, most troubling, and often most expensive clients encountered by an agency. Juvenile justice authorities must work with partners, but the partners may not be deeply motivated to work with them. Organizational partners may accept client referrals from juvenile justice authorities, but their first goal may be to jettison the most “noncompliant” youth they are asked to help. Thus, even a developmentally oriented juvenile justice system will confront challenges when it reaches across the boundaries of the child welfare, mental health, and education systems. An essential component of developmentally oriented juvenile justice reform is to establish genuine partnerships with the agencies that will be recruited to serve the needs of the youth who have become involved with the justice system or who are at risk of becoming involved (Cocozza and Skowyra, 2000; Bilchik, 2009; Shufelt, Cocozza, and Skowyra, 2010).
Collaboration among agencies at the federal level is also needed for systems change and for providing effective support and services (Lehman et al., 1998). Delinquency is one of several problem behaviors that share
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.
- Use structured risk/need assessment instruments to identify low-risk youth who can be handled less formally in community-based set-
many of the same risk markers. Thus, in addition to OJJDP, support by other federal agencies of research on adolescent development, on racial/ethnic disparities, and on evidence-based programs that are targeted at a variety of unhealthy and risky behaviors will also help inform juvenile justice policy and practice. Collaboration has been defined as “the process of individuals or organizations sharing resources and responsibilities jointly to plan, implement, and evaluate programs to achieve common goals”
tings, to match youth with specialized treatment, and to target more intensive and expensive interventions on high-risk youth.
- Use clearly specified interventions rooted in knowledge about adolescent development and tailored to the particular adolescent’s needs and social environment.
- Engage the adolescent’s family as much as possible and draw on neighborhood resources to foster positive activities, prosocial development, and law-abiding behavior.
- Eliminate interventions that rigorous evaluation research has shown to be ineffective or harmful.
- Keep accurate data on the type and intensity of interventions provided and the results achieved.
- Ensure that youth are represented throughout the process by properly trained counsel unless the right is voluntarily and intelligently waived by the youth.
- Ensure that youth are adjudicated only if they are competent to understand the proceedings and assist counsel.
- Facilitate participation by youth in all proceedings.
- Intensify efforts to reduce racial/ethnic disparities, as well as other patterns of unequal treatment, in the administration of juvenile justice.
- Ensure that youth perceive that they have been treated fairly and with dignity.
- Establish and implement evidence-based measures for fairness based on both legal criteria and perceptions of youth, families, and other participants.
(Jackson and Maddy, 1992, p. 1). Coordination and cooperation are helpful, but collaboration is needed to move the juvenile justice field forward.
Given current fiscal constraints, collaboration among federal agencies should also be geared toward pooling resources and simplifying processes for the delivery of support and services. There are excellent examples of past collaboration on programs and policies occurring at the federal level. In the schools area, OJJDP, the Departments of Health and Human Ser-
vices (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families) and Education pooled funding and staff to support local community school violence reduction programs.1 In the mental health arena, funding from OJJDP and the Center for Mental Health Services was combined to promote inclusion of youth with mental health needs involved in the juvenile justice system with other systems of care (Cocozza and Skowyra, 2000). In the disabilities area, the law reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (34 CFR Part 300.244) allowed school districts to use their federal funding for programs that would improve results for children with disabilities and their families (Leone, Quinn, and Osher, 2002).
Sustained progress toward formulating and implementing developmentally appropriate juvenile justice policies and practices will depend on the willingness of state, local, and tribal juvenile justice policy makers and federal agencies to collaborate fully and share the responsibility for carrying out their important mission.
POLITICAL COMMITMENT TO REFORM BY STATE, LOCAL, AND TRIBAL GOVERNMENTS
Given the current fiscal realities regarding the role of OJJDP and the role of the federal government in general, the immediate momentum for change will need to come from the state, local, and tribal governments. Numerous state and local jurisdictions appear to be making progress toward more developmentally appropriate juvenile justice policies and practices. But many jurisdictions lack political support for reforms or the readiness to take the necessary first steps. Even among reform-minded jurisdictions, many have not yet undertaken system-wide improvements; they appear to be progressing on some fronts and backsliding on others. Moreover, some specific reforms, such as reducing racial/ethnic disparities and improving access to counsel, are being addressed at a very slow pace and by relatively few jurisdictions.
A key element to success in building and sustaining organizational and constituent support for reform has been the willingness of policy makers at all levels to be engaged in the process and to be transparent regarding the effectiveness and costs of their current programs and policies. Two strategies have been helpful: (1) the use of bipartisan, multistakeholder task forces or commissions to promote consensus and long-term follow-through and (2) collaboration with foundations, OJJDP, and other youth-serving organizations to leverage resources. In the past decade, several private
foundations have provided incentives, taken risks, seeded innovation, and added value to existing efforts in order to accelerate progress toward system reform. Foundation priorities may change, but the need for reform remains, and it is incumbent upon private organizations and the federal government to coordinate their activities so that dollars can go further and can be used more effectively to foster a developmentally appropriate juvenile justice approach.
Many reform activities have not been adequately documented or evaluated, particularly those aimed at reducing racial/ethnic disparities. State, local, and tribal juvenile justice policy makers should form partnerships with universities or other research organizations to measure performance and assess outcomes with scientific rigor. System-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 auspices of the governor, the legislature, or the highest state court, charged with designing and overseeing a long-term process of juvenile justice reform. This body should
a. Undertake a formal, authoritative, and transparent review of its juvenile justice system aiming to align laws, policies, and practices at every stage of the process with evolving knowledge regarding adolescent development and the effects of specific juvenile justice interventions and programs.
b. Develop a strategy for modifying current laws, policies, and practices, for implementing and evaluating necessary changes on an ongoing basis, and for reviewing any proposed juvenile justice legislation.
c. Intensify efforts to identify and then modify policies and practices that tend to disadvantage racial/ethnic minorities at various stages of the juvenile justice process and publish periodic reports on the nature and extent of disparities and the effects of specific interven tions undertaken to reduce them.
STRONG SUPPORTING ROLE FOR OJJDP
The policies and principles reflected in the sequence of legislation establishing and authorizing OJJDP are now buttressed by a strong body of scientific knowledge regarding adolescent development as well as an impres-
sive array of research on juvenile offending. Its core protections reflect developmentally appropriate policies and practice; however, many youth are not currently afforded the protections. Strengthening the legislation will send a strong message regarding the need for state, local, and tribal governments to assume greater responsibility for complying with the requirements and achieving a developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system. It will also enable OJJDP to redirect its resources in a way that best supports the efforts of state, local, and tribal jurisdictions.
Recommendation 2: The role of OJJDP in preventing delinquency and supporting juvenile justice improvement should be strengthened.
a. OJJDP’s capacity to carry out its core mission should be restored through reauthorization, appropriations, and funding flexibility. Assisting state, local, and tribal jurisdictions to align their juvenile justice systems with evolving knowledge about adolescent development and implementing evidence-based and developmentally informed policies, programs, and practices should be among the agency’s top priorities. Any additional responsibilities and authority conferred on the agency should be amply funded so as not to erode the funds needed to carry out the core mission.
b. OJJDP’s legislative mandate to provide core protections should be strengthened through reauthorizing legislation that defines status offenses to include offenses such as possession of alcohol or tobacco that apply only to youth under 21; precludes without exception the detention of youth who commit offenses that would not be punishable by confinement if committed by an adult; modifies the definition of an adult inmate to give states flexibility to keep youth in juvenile facilities until they reach the age of extended juvenile court jurisdiction; and expands the protections to all youth under age 18 in pretrial detention, whether charged in juvenile or in adult courts.
c. OJJDP should prioritize its research, training, and technical assistance resources to promote the adoption of developmentally appropriate policies and practices by jurisdictions throughout the country, particularly helping those that have not yet achieved a state of readiness to undertake reform.
d. OJJDP should support state and local efforts to reduce racial/ethnic disparities by using its technical and financial resources to expand the number of local jurisdictions currently participating in activities aimed at reducing disproportionate minority contact (DMC); support efforts to design and implement programs and policies aiming to reduce disparities; support scientifically valid methods
for understanding the causes of racial/ethnic disparities and for evaluating the impact of DMC interventions; and enhance the transparency of its oversight activities by identifying impediments being encountered and assisting localities to overcome them.
FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR RESEARCH
Traditionally, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has been the primary funder of research on juvenile crime and juvenile justice, but its capacity is limited. Tremendous strides have been made in the past quarter-century to understand adolescent development and delinquency, and it is essential that OJJDP and other funding agencies continue to support research that has far-reaching implications beyond that of juvenile justice. Research on adolescent development has potential impact for a broad array of youth-related behaviors. The research agenda should include but not be limited to:
- Research that measures both neurobiological immaturity and psychological immaturity concurrently in the same individuals across a variety of legally relevant psychological capacities and across a broad age range.
- Research on the processes and utility of integrating structured risk/need assessments into court practice and service provision. This research should help to explain how these instruments are being used; their effectiveness with adolescents posing different risks; the congruence between identified needs and services actually delivered; the relation between assessment, system responses, and outcomes; and the impact of these assessment practices on minority youth.
- Research on the processes of family involvement in juvenile justice and methods for successfully involving parents and other family members in these processes.
- Research to investigate how far inclusion criteria for program involvement can be expanded to incorporate even more serious delinquents.
- Well-constructed and scientifically valid evaluations of system reform efforts, such as the Missouri model, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), and Models for Change.
- Empirical research on whether and how alternative adjudicative options and procedural strategies for holding juveniles accountable (e.g., timeliness) affect their sense of responsibility for wrongdoing and perceptions of fairness and whether and how they affect future offending.
- Principles of effective intervention, derived from analyses of evidence-based interventions.
As indicated above, a comprehensive research and data program designed to reduce racial/ethnic disparities is a critical research need. Whether undertaken as a stand-alone program or as part of a larger initiative on disparities in the administration of justice or in other youth-related fields that overlap with justice, the topics should include but not be limited to:
- Research that quantifies to the extent possible the influence of various identifiable factors (differential participation in the crimes that lead to involvement with the juvenile justice system, socioeconomic/poverty effects, police patrol patterns in high-crime areas, family composition, etc.) that, in combination, produce racial/ethnic disparities.
- Juvenile justice decision makers’ attitudes and mechanisms by which individual perceptions influence decision making; legal decision making, including how court officials define and treat offenders.
- Possible racial/ethnic disparities connected with the use of any risk/need assessment strategy and how to make these instruments contribute to a larger vision of an effective and fair service involvement.
- The police decision to arrest; use of a variety of methodologies to address the wide range of discretionary policy practices of police in different neighborhood settings.
- Identification of juvenile justice system decision points and jurisdictional practices of urban and rural jurisdictions that contribute to racial/ethnic disparities; an understanding of cumulative effects of race across stages of process and over time through repeated encounters.
- Studies of school disciplinary, mental health, and child welfare system “crossover” youth, who move between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and how these youth fare at the charging stage.
- Scientifically valid evaluations of state and local initiatives to reduce racial/ethnic disparities.
The evidence-based movement in treatment and prevention did not gain traction until the programs were evaluated with experimental designs and rigorous benefit-cost analyses were undertaken. A similar effort is required to identify programs that work to reduce racial/ethnic disparities. Racial/ethnic disparities experienced by minority youth prevent the benefits of developmentally appropriate policies and practices from being achieved.
Even perceived discrimination on the part of minority youth can have a profound impact on the trajectories of their lives. After decades of little progress, an intensification of effort is called for.
Recommendation 3: Federal research agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health, as well as OJJDP, should support research that continues to advance the science of adolescent development and expands our understanding of the ways in which developmental processes influence juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice responses.
Throughout the report, the committee has noted that poor, nonexistent, or inaccessible data impede efforts to improve the nation’s response to juvenile crime and the treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system. State, local, and tribal governments are dependent on a variety of data sources from the federal government and from various agencies in their own jurisdictions, including law enforcement and juvenile justice agencies and courts, as well as education, social services, and health and mental health agencies. They often lack the clout to influence the providers of relevant juvenile justice and other systems’ data. This challenge must be pursued at the federal level, and OJJDP is the logical agency to lead the effort and provide the training and technical assistance and support for a substantial, coordinated effort to improve the capacities of juvenile justice agencies and service providers to collect, manage, and analyze data on service provision and outcomes.
Recommendation 4: Under OJJDP’s leadership, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and other governmental and private statistical organizations should develop a data improvement program on juvenile crime and juvenile justice system processing that provides greater insight into state, local, and tribal variations. OJJDP should also be involved in any effort undertaken by other U.S. Department of Justice agencies with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to improve the federal collection of juvenile arrest and incident data. At the state, local, and tribal levels, data should be collected on the gender, age, race/ethnicity of offenders as well as the offense charged or committed; arrest, detention, and disposition practices; and recidivism. OJJDP should provide training and technical assistance on data collection, automated data systems, and methods of preserving the confidentiality of juvenile records.