In the past decade, a number of state, local, and tribal jurisdictions have taken significant steps to improve their juvenile justice systems—for example, reducing the use of juvenile detention and out-of-home placement, using assessment tools to identify risks and needs, bringing greater attention to racial and ethnic disparities, looking for ways to engage affected families in the process, and raising the age at which juvenile court jurisdiction ends. These changes reflect heightening awareness of the ineffectiveness of punitive practices and accumulating knowledge about the implications of adolescent development for reforming the juvenile justice system. Momentum for reform is growing. However, many more state, local, and tribal jurisdictions need assistance, and practitioners in the juvenile justice field are looking for guidance from the federal government, particularly from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as the sole agency charged with addressing juvenile delinquency.
In 2013, the National Research Council (NRC) published a report, Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach (hereafter, the 2013 NRC report), which consolidated the research on adolescent development and the effects of justice system interventions and summarized the state of current reform efforts. That report shows how knowledge about adolescent development aligns with the goals of the juvenile justice system (holding youths accountable, being fair, and preventing reoffending). Taking a “developmental approach” to juvenile justice was seen as embracing policies and practices at every decision point, and by every actor or participant, that are informed by, and compatible with, evolving knowledge about adolescent development and with research evidence on the effects of juvenile justice interventions.
The 2013 NRC report made four broad recommendations based on the research findings and on the central idea that a developmental approach should guide juvenile justice system improvement: (1) state and tribal governments should create oversight bodies to design, implement, and oversee a long-term process of juvenile justice reform; (2) OJJDP should assume a strengthened federal role, to support juvenile justice system improvement; (3) federal agencies should support research to advance the science of adolescent development and improve understanding of effective responses to delinquency; and (4) OJJDP should guide a data improvement program. The report emphasized that laws, policies, and practices at every stage within the system should align with the evolving knowledge of adolescent development (National Research Council, 2013, pp. 1-14).
After the release of the 2013 report, the NRC appointed the Committee on a Prioritized Plan to Implement a Developmental Approach in Juvenile Justice Reform to identify and prioritize federal strategies and policies to effectively facilitate reform of the juvenile justice system and develop an implementation plan for OJJDP (see
statement of task in Chapter 1). This report lays out that plan and recommendations, including proposals regarding the agency’s priorities, budget, and operations. Although the committee recognizes that OJJDP has other responsibilities, the report focuses on juvenile justice system improvement in response to its charge as well as the growing demand for leadership and change within juvenile justice.
OJJDP has been widely viewed in recent years as being in a state of limited capacity and stature. The agency has not been reauthorized since 2002. Appropriated funding has declined by half in current dollars since 2003-2010, but more importantly the discretion that OJJDP has to use its funding has been sharply compromised. Directed priorities from Congress and the Department of Justice have undercut OJJDP’s ability to assist states and localities with juvenile justice system issues and improvements and with delinquency prevention programs targeting youths most at risk of system involvement. At this time, OJJDP’s program portfolio focuses heavily on preventive interventions that target children well before any indication of likely involvement with the justice system. As a result, OJJDP’s portfolio needs to be rebalanced. The 2013 NRC report emphasized that the juvenile justice system is in critical need of assistance, and OJJDP is the only federal agency specifically mandated to provide assistance to this system. This committee, like the committee that authored the 2013 NRC report, acknowledges that OJJDP’s authorizing legislation, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, as amended (P.L. 107-273; JJDPA), provides the agency with the appropriate authority and functions to be a leader in juvenile justice reform. However, that authority and OJJDP’s capacity to focus on system reform need to be strengthened.
This report identifies seven hallmarks of a developmental approach to juvenile justice. A developmental approach puts into practice what we know from research on adolescent development and on the effectiveness of juvenile justice interventions. These hallmarks provide a template to guide system reform:
- Accountability Without Criminalization
- Alternatives to Justice System Involvement
- Individualized Response Based on Assessment of Needs and Risks
- Confinement Only When Necessary for Public Safety
- A Genuine Commitment to Fairness
- Sensitivity to Disparate Treatment
- Family Engagement
The report outlines how these hallmarks of a developmental approach should be incorporated into policies and practices within OJJDP, as well as in actions taken by state, local, and tribal jurisdictions to achieve the goals of the juvenile justice system.1
Most of the steps recommended in this report can be accomplished under the current statutory framework of the JJDPA, and much of what is recommended can be effectuated even within the agency’s limited funding capacity—if the agency is creative in using the flexibility allowed by available funding streams and in leveraging other sources of support. However, OJJDP’s ability to effect change in the juvenile justice field in the foreseeable future will be severely constrained without adequate legislative and budgetary support by federal policy makers. Therefore, although most of the committee’s recommendations below2 are directed at OJJDP, the committee also urges federal policy makers to demonstrate support for a developmental approach to juvenile justice and delinquency prevention and to bolster OJJDP’s capacity to lead and facilitate system reform.
SUPPORT BY FEDERAL POLICY MAKERS FOR IMPROVING THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
Reauthorization of the JJDPA will establish a firm foundation for OJJDP’s role in the transformative work ahead, as well as signaling to the field that the nation has entered the next stage in juvenile justice reform based upon the research and science of adolescent development. The reauthorizing legislation, if adopted, should under-
1The goals or aims of the juvenile courts and affiliated agencies of the juvenile justice system have been expressed as follows: holding youths accountable for wrongdoing, preventing further offending, and treating juveniles fairly (National Research Council, 2013, p.10).
2Note that the numbering of the recommendations reflects their placement as developed in the chapters of this report.
score federal support for juvenile justice system improvements based on the science of adolescent development and on scientific evidence regarding the effects of justice system interventions. Reauthorization of JJDPA with strengthened legislative language would send a strong message regarding the need for state, local, and tribal governments to assume greater responsibility for administering a developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system as a condition for federal support.
OJJDP’s ability to effect change in the juvenile justice field in the foreseeable future will be severely constrained without adequate legislative and budgetary support by federal policy makers. When OJJDP is reauthorized, it should be directed, as recommended by the 2013 NRC report, to base its programs and activities on the scientific knowledge regarding adolescent development and the effects of delinquency prevention programs and juvenile justice interventions; to link state plans and training of state advisory groups to the accumulating knowledge about adolescent development; to modify the definitions for “status offenses” and for an “adult inmate” so that all adolescents are treated appropriately; and to identify support for developmentally informed juvenile justice system improvement as one of the agency’s responsibilities.
OJJDP continues to be assigned responsibility for programs that do not directly involve the juvenile justice system or youths connected with the justice system. Funds for these programs have been carved out of OJJDP’s shrinking total budget through appropriations. As a result of a declining source of discretionary funds, OJJDP’s capacity to help improve the juvenile justice system has been materially diminished. One of the key recommendations in the 2013 NRC report was that federal policy makers should restore OJJDP’s capacity to carry out its mission through reauthorization, appropriations, and funding flexibility (National Research Council, 2013, p. 328; reproduced in Box 3-2 of this report).
To realize greater impact, it may be necessary to further target appropriations on reform of the juvenile justice system. Even if the agency is given greater flexibility in using its funding, its current appropriations do not give it adequate capacity to conduct the activities that were envisioned by Congress in enacting the JJDPA in 1974 or to carry out the vision articulated in this report. The main solution to that problem is to assure that the agency has the necessary resources for staffing, grants, training, and technical assistance.
OJJDP’s ability to carry out its mission requires adequate legislative and budgetary support by federal policy makers. Assisting states, localities, and tribal jurisdictions to align their juvenile justice systems and delinquency prevention programs with current best practices and the results of research on adolescent development and implementing developmentally informed policies, programs, and practices should be the agency’s top priority under the JJDPA. Any additional responsibilities and authority conferred on the agency should be amply funded so as not to erode the funds needed to carry out support for system improvement. The funds available to OJJDP need to be ample enough, and sufficiently flexible, to enable the agency to hire, train, and retain the necessary staff and to provide the demonstration grants, research, and technical assistance needed to support developmentally informed justice system improvements and reforms by states, tribes, and localities.
While OJJDP is the federal agency designated to improve the juvenile justice system, it is one of many agencies within DOJ. Implementation of a developmental approach to juvenile justice will require the support and leadership of the Office of Justice Programs and DOJ. Acceptance and formal recognition of the hallmarks of a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform across DOJ agencies is a necessary condition for carrying out the strategy outlined in this report.
Recommendation 5-1: The U.S. Department of Justice, including but not limited to the Office of Justice Programs, should authorize, publicly support, and actively partner with OJJDP to provide federal support for developmentally oriented juvenile justice reform in states, localities, and tribal jurisdictions. The federal initiative should include strategic training and technical assistance; demonstration programs; and a range of incentives to states, localities, and tribes to achieve specific outcomes for justice-involved youths, as well as specific system changes.
OJJDP’S LEADERSHIP ROLE
This report provides an implementation plan for OJJDP.3 The agency has a broad mandate with responsibilities to provide assistance and support research across the continuum of delinquency prevention and justice system interventions. OJJDP should use all of the tools at its disposal to support reform efforts: dispensing formula and block grants, providing training and technical assistance, funding demonstration programs, supporting research and data collection, and disseminating information. OJJDP will need to rebalance its activities and programs and fortify its internal capacity to administer them through intensive staff training. OJJDP should also ensure that all stakeholders and participants in the juvenile justice system are trained appropriately and understand the hallmarks of a developmental approach. In a parallel and continuous research agenda, OJJDP should gather data, measure progress, synthesize lessons learned, and facilitate iterative improvements as it points the way toward a juvenile justice system that is fair, holds youths accountable in a developmentally appropriate manner, and prevents re-offending.
Building Internal Capacity
OJJDP will need to incorporate the hallmarks of a developmental approach in all of its operations, including training and technical assistance, research, demonstration programs, and partnerships. This will require a concerted effort to realign the organizational culture with the new vision. OJJDP should strive to ensure that each of its divisions is well staffed with trained professionals knowledgeable about the science of adolescent development and skilled in the areas needed to guide a strategic reform effort based on a developmental approach.
Recommendation 3-1: OJJDP should develop a staff training curriculum based on the hallmarks of a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform. With the assistance of a team of external experts, it should implement the training curriculum on an ongoing basis and train, assign, or hire staff to align its capabilities with the skills and expertise needed to carry out a developmentally oriented approach to juvenile justice reform.
Based on perceptions in the field, as well as personnel assignments, it appears that OJJDP’s operations are burdened by grant monitoring tasks for both the general monitoring of all its grants and the enforcement of compliance with the core protections stipulated by the JJDPA (despite high rates of compliance with those protections). While ensuring that awarded monies are used appropriately is imperative, the committee is convinced that this function can be reconfigured so as to redirect staffing resources toward system reform efforts. OJJDP should reexamine the monitoring systems and revisit past approaches by the agency to identify ways to ensure compliance that is less resource-intensive, such as a system of random audits, a rotating schedule of full reviews, or contracting out the monitoring function.
Recommendation 3-2: OJJDP should establish a better balance between grant monitoring and system reform efforts by examining more efficient ways to monitor grants and compliance with the core protections from the JJDPA.
Leadership of reform within the states may come from a variety of places, depending upon the state, local, or tribal jurisdiction: grassroots advocates, change agent leaders, or policy makers. A potentially critical role in promoting state-level reforms can be played by State Advisory Groups (SAGs), which are composed of citizens,
3In addition to the formal recommendations to OJJDP developed in Chapters 3 through 5 and noted in this Summary, the implementation plan also includes, in Chapter 6, specific action steps for implementing the recommendations. The action steps are set out over a 3-year period to provide OJJDP and the Department of Justice with a detailed temporal roadmap for implementing reform of the juvenile justice system using a developmentally informed approach.
advocates, and government officials at various levels. The SAGs serve several functions, including overseeing juvenile justice grant funds from OJJDP, monitoring the four core-protection requirements, and developing or reviewing a 3-year state plan. They therefore have the potential to become key players in juvenile justice reform, serving as one of the leaders for reform efforts that OJJDP could leverage at the state level.
Recommendation 4-1: OJJDP should promote the development and strengthening of the State Advisory Groups (SAGs) to be juvenile justice reform leaders by supporting meaningful family and youth engagement, fostering partnerships, delivering strategic training and technical assistance aimed at facilitating reform, and ensuring that SAG members and staff are knowledgeable about the hallmarks of a developmental approach to juvenile justice.
The committee has conceived a technical assistance framework that provides capacity-building support to state, local, and tribal jurisdictions, including the SAGs, in two broad categories: tactical and strategic. Tactical forms of technical assistance are specific and short in duration, such as the development of a risk assessment tool and training on its use. Strategic technical assistance is more comprehensive, provided over a long time horizon, and better suited for addressing complex issues. Strategic technical assistance spans multiple years, and when it is well executed, it is customized to the local level and decisions are guided by data. Both strategic and tactical technical assistance are tools necessary for OJJDP to guide reform. Given the expense of a long-term commitment of technical assistance and the scarcity of resources, OJJDP must be strategic in deciding which localities or states are eligible to receive the assistance, under what specific circumstances, and through which carefully selected providers that have demonstrated expertise in adolescent development.
Recommendation 4-2: OJJDP should develop a portfolio of training and technical assistance, properly balanced to be both strategic and tactical, to support the implementation of a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform. OJJDP should coordinate with agencies and organizations proficient in providing training and technical assistance based on the hallmarks of a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform. This proficiency should include historical experience working in system improvement efforts.
Recommendation 4-3: All applicants for technical assistance or demonstration grants sponsored by OJJDP should be required to show how they would use the assistance, either strategically or tactically, to implement or strengthen a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform.
Recommendation 5-7: OJJDP should increase its capacity to provide training and technical assistance by initiating or capitalizing on partnerships with national organizations that provide training and guidance to their membership and recognize the need for enhanced training in the hallmarks of a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform.
With its existing statutory authority, OJJDP could develop a multiyear pilot program for jurisdictions demonstrating readiness to develop a developmentally appropriate system that promotes accountability, ensures fairness with attention to reducing racial and ethnic disparities, and reduces the risk of further delinquency. Selected jurisdictions can demonstrate this readiness through, for instance, a willingness to measure youth outcomes and system improvement progress over time; fostering partnerships; and identifying avenues for participation of system-involved youths and families in the development of policies, practices, and programs. The selected sites could be viewed from the outset as “learning laboratories” that provide guidance to new jurisdictions as OJJDP takes the effort to scale.
Recommendation 4-5: In partnership with other federal agencies and the philanthropic community, OJJDP should develop a multiyear demonstration project designed to provide substantial technical assistance and financial support to selected states and localities to develop a comprehensive plan for reforming the state’s juvenile justice system based on a developmental approach. The demonstration grant should include a
requirement for strategies that reduce racial and ethnic disparities and the unnecessary use of confinement as well as other hallmarks of a developmental approach. OJJDP should ensure that State Advisory Group (SAG) members in states with demonstration sites are intimately involved in their state’s pilot projects and help disseminate lessons learned to other states’ SAGs.
Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities
Reducing racial and ethnic disparities is a critical element of juvenile justice reform. Whatever their underlying causes, continued disparities call into question the fairness of the juvenile justice system (National Research Council, 2013, p. 211). They also reinforce social disaffection and disrespect for law among minority youths at a developmentally sensitive time (National Research Council, 2013, p. 194). While reducing racial and ethnic disparities has been a focus of the OJJDP for more than a decade, little progress has been made toward this goal—due in part to various combinations of lack of incentives, lack of cross-system collaboration, inadequate resources, the extreme difficulties of disentangling the many complex contributing factors, and deeply embedded structural biases.
OJJDP’s current approach to the disproportionate minority contact provision in the JJDPA, focusing on the collection of Relative Rate Index data from states, has not been effective. New guidelines should be developed that require each jurisdiction to identify specific decision points where disparities emerge or are magnified, assess the reasons for these disparities, develop a plan for modifying the policy or practice that appears to be producing the disparities, evaluate outcomes of the plan, and revise and improve the plan if necessary to reduce disparities. In addition, OJJDP can help promote a fairer and more equitable system, and therefore a more developmentally appropriate system, by highlighting promising practices in reducing disparities and providing meaningful and well-informed training and technical assistance to the field, including peer learning opportunities. The committee is confident that OJJDP has authority to adopt this approach without any change in the JJDPA.
Recommendation 4-4: OJJDP should establish new approaches for identifying racial and ethnic disparities across the juvenile justice system, promulgate new guidelines for reducing and eliminating racial and ethnic disparities, build the internal capacity and/or establish partnerships for assisting states with these new requirements, and strengthen the role of State Advisory Groups (SAGs) in monitoring the new guidelines by providing training and technical assistance to SAGs.
Creating Strategic Partnerships
Developing strategic partnerships will be critical for achieving system reform. OJJDP will have to not only strengthen or develop partnerships at the federal level but also facilitate partnerships within the jurisdictions and among stakeholder groups. The committee believes OJJDP should focus on those partnerships that will have the greatest impact on the goal of achieving a more developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system. In the short term, partnerships should help the agency implement the recommendations and action items in this report, such as developing and executing a training curriculum, designing a demonstration grant program, and identifying strategic opportunities to support an innovative reform. Over the longer term, partnerships should be designed to help monitor, replicate, and sustain system reforms.
Recommendation 5-2: OJJDP should initiate and support collaborative partnerships at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels and should use them strategically to advance the goal of a developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system.
The JJDPA authorizes an independent Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, whose purpose is to coordinate relevant federal work and to support state and local juvenile justice programs. While the recent impact and role of this council has been unclear and funding to support its work has declined substantially, the coordinating council provides an established structure through which OJJDP can lead and coordinate an
initiative with federal partners assigned to the council and can fully engage system-involved youths and families at the federal level by including their perspective in guiding policy, practice, and reform.
Recommendation 5-3: OJJDP should establish and convene, on an ongoing basis, a Family Advisory Group to the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, composed of youths and families whose lives have been impacted by the juvenile justice system.
Recommendation 5-4: OJJDP, with the support of the attorney general, should use the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention strategically to implement key components of developmentally oriented juvenile justice reform through interagency, intergovernmental (federal-state-local partnering), and public-private partnering activities with specific measurable objectives.
Preventing and reducing delinquent behavior requires the collective knowledge and resources of the members of this coordinating council along with other federal agencies. While OJJDP is the only federal agency specifically authorized to improve the juvenile justice system, it is not the only agency that has the ability to contribute to this mission. Durable, long-term, systemic improvements that result in improved outcomes for youths in the juvenile justice system depend on the coordination of categorical funding from health, behavioral health, social services, education, juvenile justice, housing, and workforce development.
Recommendation 5-5: OJJDP should work with its federal agency and Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention partners (i) to blend or leverage available federal funds to support OJJDP demonstration projects and (ii) to provide guidance to eligible grantees on leveraging federal funding at the state or local level.
It has been almost 35 years since the American Bar Association (ABA) approved the Juvenile Justice Standards. Review and reconsideration of the standards is long overdue in light of developments in the law as well as advances in knowledge about adolescent development. The committee understands that the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section Executive Committee is considering initiation of a process to review and revise the existing Juvenile Justice Standards. The committee hopes that the ABA will undertake this project and that it will convene a multidisciplinary task force to conduct the necessary study, with participation by the relevant professional, scientific, and stakeholder organizations. If the ABA does decide to undertake this project, the Department of Justice, acting through OJJDP, should participate actively and provide its full support.
Recommendation 5-6: OJJDP, with support of the attorney general, should support and participate in an American Bar Association project to formulate a new and updated volume of standards for juvenile justice based on the developmental approach.
Building the Statistical Foundation to Assess Reform
Currently, many jurisdictions develop their own information management systems or contract with businesses to develop such systems, largely de novo. This makes generalizable knowledge and collaborative problem solving difficult. Attaining an acceptable level of uniformity in administrative data collection across states and localities would make cross-site comparisons and projects possible. OJJDP is the only agency that is positioned to promote the needed consistency across data systems in the various jurisdictions.
Recommendation 3-3: OJJDP should take a leadership role in local, state, and tribal jurisdictions with respect to the development and implementation of administrative data systems by providing model formats for system structure, standards, and common definitions of data elements. OJJDP should also provide consultation on data systems as well as opportunities for sharing information across jurisdictions.
Since its establishment, OJJDP has promoted research and data collection. The research programs it has supported have focused on collecting and analyzing information on numbers of juveniles at various stages of the system, on identifying individual programs that “work” to prevent or reduce delinquency among the program participants (measured almost exclusively by re-arrest rates), and on identifying factors related to the development or continuation of delinquency. Although these efforts continue to be useful, data collection and research are needed to identify and measure the effects of particular juvenile justice practices or policies on adolescent development and to understand developmental influences on the effectiveness of juvenile justice practices and policies.
Recommendation 3-4: OJJDP should focus research efforts toward specific projects related to a developmental perspective on juvenile justice, capitalizing on an integration of its research and program efforts.
Reform of the nation’s juvenile justice systems grounded in advancing knowledge about adolescent development is a widely supported goal, crossing the usual lines of political disagreement. The 2013 NRC report summarized the scientific foundation for a developmental approach and distilled its implications for reform. This new report sets forth a detailed and prioritized strategic plan for the federal government to support and facilitate a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform. The pivotal component of the plan is to strengthen the role, capacity, and commitment of OJJDP, the lead federal agency in the field. By carrying out the recommendations in this report, the federal government will both reaffirm and advance the promise of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.