A movement is under way to change the treatment of youths in the nation’s juvenile justice system based on accumulating knowledge about adolescent development and the effects of justice system interventions. Public officials in states and localities are taking steps to reform their juvenile justice systems, supported by an impressive array of foundations, national organizations, and academic institutions. A consensus is emerging that the correctional model of juvenile justice should be replaced by a developmentally oriented approach that keeps youths in their communities, avoids formal legal involvement unless necessary to ensure accountability or protect public safety, and provides whatever services and interventions are needed to support the prosocial development of youths whose cases are diverted from or referred to the juvenile justice system for formal processing. Policy makers and practitioners have also expressed increasing interest in evidence about “what works” for justice-involved youths. The National Research Council report Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach was published in 2013 (hereafter, the 2013 NRC report) to consolidate in one volume the results of research on adolescent development and on the effects of justice system interventions and to summarize and assess recent reforms. This report draws on the findings and conclusions of the 2013 NRC report to examine how the federal government can best support reform efforts in the states and localities.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) was established in 1974 under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) (P.L. 93-415, 42 U.S.C. §5601 et seq) and authorized to assist state, local, and tribal jurisdictions in their efforts to improve their juvenile justice systems. The agency’s early authorizing legislation recognized, as a guiding premise, that juvenile offenders should be treated differently from adults and should receive individualized services in a developmentally appropriate setting. The agency is housed within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Office of Justice Programs. Unlike most federal agencies, OJJDP has a broad mandate with responsibilities that include collecting and documenting data on juveniles in the system; providing support for state, tribal, and local program development; funding research and evaluation, information dissemination, training, and technical assistance; and ensuring compliance with core protections established for states participating in the formula grants program of the JJDPA. This range of functions from supporting research to providing assistance has allowed OJJDP over the years to develop a unique research-to-practice continuum in which its research portfolio is focused on practitioners’ needs, using research knowledge and statistics to inform its program development (National Research Council, 2013). In addition, the breadth of OJJDP’s mission from delinquency prevention to juvenile justice system interventions allows the agency to be holistic in its approach to addressing issues facing the practitioners in the juvenile justice field (Bilchik, 2010, cited in National Research Council, 2013).
During the 1980s and 1990s, juvenile justice systems across the country were reshaped to embrace a correctional model, relying heavily on placing youths adjudicated as delinquent in facilities outside their homes and communities. The national confinement rate of juveniles rose steadily from 167 per 100,000 population in 1979 to 221 in 1989, reaching a peak in 1997 of 356 juveniles in out-of-home placement1 per 100,000 population before starting to decline (Allen-Hagen, 1991; Child Trends, n.d.; Kline, 1989; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1983; Sickmund et al., 2011). In addition, the total number of juveniles held in adult jails rose dramatically from 1,736 nationally in 1983 to 8,090 in 1998, a 366 percent increase. In the late 1990s, 13 percent of confined juveniles were in adult jails or prisons (Austin et al., 2000).
In many cases, confining youths away from their homes and communities interferes with the social conditions that contribute to adolescents’ healthy psychological development: the presence of an involved parent or parent figure, association with prosocial peers, and activities that require autonomous decision making and critical thinking (National Research Council, 2013). Many families are torn apart by increased mental, emotional, and financial strain through the processes of juvenile justice system involvement. In addition, family members are often excluded from decisions on the treatment of the children (Justice for Families, 2012). As youths enter adulthood, they can face collateral consequences of involvement in the justice system, such as the public release of juvenile and criminal records that follow them throughout their lives and limit future education and employment opportunities (National Research Council, 2013).
Another controversial trend in the late 1980s and early 1990s was an increase in the number of juveniles prosecuted in adult criminal courts. According to OJJDP, juvenile cases transferred to adult criminal courts via judicial waiver peaked in 1994 at 13,300 cases, two times greater than the number in 1985. However, this figure substantially understates the number of juveniles prosecuted in criminal courts; it does not include many youths whose cases initiated in the criminal courts at the outset, either because (1) youths were older than the jurisdictional age of juvenile court in states that established criminal court jurisdiction at age 16 or 17, or (2) state laws specifically established jurisdiction for the offense in the adult criminal court and excluded it from original juvenile court jurisdiction, or (3) prosecutors had the authority to file the case directly in the criminal court due to the nature of the charge (Puzzanchera and Addie, 2014). Many states redrew the jurisdictional boundaries of the juvenile and criminal courts during this period, excluding certain offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction or authorizing prosecutors to “direct file”2 many more cases in criminal court. As a result of these developments, the number of juveniles sentenced to lengthy periods of confinement as criminal offenders in adult facilities increased substantially (Austin et al., 2000; Puzzanchera and Addie, 2014).
Youths prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system fare worse than those who remain in the juvenile justice system. According to the 2013 NRC report, “… adolescents are in a formative developmental stage in which their social context is likely to shape the trajectory of their future lives” (National Research Council, 2013, p. 135). In adult prisons, youths are more likely to experience victimization, isolation, interaction with adults who seem unconcerned for their welfare, and insufficient educational and therapeutic programs—none of which is likely to reduce recidivism and may in fact increase re-offending and contribute to additional developmental harm (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2012; Austin et al., 2000; Beck et al., 1993; Bishop and Frazier, 2000; Forst et al., 1989; Redding, 2008; Task Force on Community Preventive Services, 2007).
These disadvantages are borne disproportionately by minority youths, who are overrepresented at every stage of the juvenile justice process and remain in the system longer than white youths do (National Council on Crime
1Rates are calculated per 100,000 juveniles ages 10 through the upper age limit of each state’s original juvenile court jurisdiction (Child Trends, n.d.; Sickmund et al., 2011).
2Statutes in 15 states define a category of cases in which the prosecutor may determine whether to proceed initially in juvenile or criminal court. Typically, these direct-file provisions give both juvenile and adult criminal courts the power to hear cases involving certain offenses or age/offense categories, leaving it up to the prosecutor to make discretionary decisions about where to file them. Of course, prosecutors often have considerable discretionary powers in this area even in the absence of formal statutory authority. In their charging decisions, for instance, they may sometimes, in effect, choose the forum in which the case will be heard. What distinguishes direct-file authority is that it rests on the juvenile and criminal courts’ concurrent jurisdiction over a given type of case. Available: http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/tryingjuvasadult/transfer2.html [August 2014].
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
E. Casey Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Committee on a Prioritized Plan to Implement a Developmental Approach in Juvenile Justice Reform was given the following task:
An ad hoc committee will be convened to identify, assess and prioritize strategies and policies to effectively reform the juvenile justice system building on the recommendations from the 2013 report, Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach. The committee will assess the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP) activities and internal capacities to implement its legislative mandates on juvenile justice systems, policies, and practices; and, consult with experts and practitioners in the field of juvenile justice. The committee will also examine existing literature in three areas; implementation science, cross-agency collaboration and appropriate criteria for prioritization in the context of juvenile justice reform, including cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis where applicable. The study will conclude with a report documenting the committee’s findings and proposing recommendations for OJJDP and, where appropriate other federal agencies, to implement a reform plan using a developmental approach. The committee may address budgetary considerations and recommendations from other OJJDP plans.
The committee was specifically tasked with building on the research and recommendations of the 2013 NRC report and proposing a plan for OJJDP to implement reforms using a developmental approach. Taking a “developmental approach” to juvenile justice means effectuating the goals of the juvenile justice system (holding youths accountable, being fair, and preventing re-offending) in a way that is informed by, and compatible with, evolving knowledge about adolescent development and the research evidence on the effects of juvenile justice interventions. The 2013 NRC report consolidates scientific knowledge about adolescent development and systematically connects that body of research to the goals, policies, and practices of the juvenile justice system. This committee is relying upon the scientific findings, conclusions, and recommendations set forth in the 2013 report. Chapter 2 of this report briefly summarizes the 2013 report, distills the science behind what we are calling the “hallmarks” of a developmental approach, and sets forth a foundation for use by OJJDP and by states and localities to guide system reform.3
The statement of task also directed the committee to “assess [OJJDP’s] activities and internal capacities to implement its legislative mandate on juvenile justice systems, policies and practices.” The ability of the agency to fulfill its mandate is impacted by a number of external conditions, such as congressional directives to carry out other responsibilities aside from juvenile justice system improvement and the priorities and perspectives of the Department of Justice in successive administrations. It became evident early in the committee’s deliberations that OJJDP does not currently have the capacity to lead and support nationwide juvenile justice reform if substantial portions of its limited funds and operations (under current appropriations and probably under any foreseeable appropriations) are devoted to tasks tangentially related to its legislative mandate relating to juvenile justice improvement and delinquency prevention. Trends in OJJDP’s appropriated budget are discussed in Chapter 3. The committee decided, based on the JJDPA itself and the 2013 NRC report, that carrying out juvenile justice system improvement successfully could and should be OJJDP’s top priority and that the committee’s recommendations regarding the agency’s priorities, budget, and operations would be formulated accordingly. OJJDP may be the most suitable agency in the Justice Department to carry out other congressionally mandated functions. However, the committee believes that these additional responsibilities should not be assigned in a way that compromises the agency’s capacity to support and facilitate juvenile justice system improvement.
A question also arose regarding the extent to which the committee’s strategic plan for implementing a developmentally informed approach to juvenile justice reform should encompass policies relating to the prosecution of juveniles in criminal court. “Juvenile justice reform” is generally understood to embrace a developmentally informed approach to juvenile court jurisdictional issues, including transfer and sentencing of juveniles in criminal court, an understanding reinforced by the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in this area (Roper v. Simmons, 2005; Graham v. Florida, 2010; and Miller v. Alabama, 2012). The committee responsible for the 2013 NRC report chose to focus mainly on the design and operation of the juvenile justice system while offering general observa-
3See also Appendix B for a report brief describing the 2013 report and its findings and recommendations on research supporting, and the principles of, a developmental approach.
tions about the implications of a developmental approach for trial and punishment of juveniles in the criminal justice system. Specifically, the 2013 NRC report endorses a general presumption favoring original juvenile court jurisdiction in most cases involving offenders younger than 18 and a preference for individualized judicial decisions to transfer jurisdiction to a criminal court. This committee assumes that OJJDP will continue to interpret its mission to encompass activities designed to ameliorate policies and practices governing the decision to prosecute adolescents under the age of 18 in criminal courts.
Finally, the committee’s charge included identifying strategies and policies that OJJDP might undertake to implement a reform plan using a developmental approach, in conjunction with other federal agencies both within and outside the Justice Department. The committee believes that a developmental approach is relevant to the treatment of adolescents over age 17 who are either within the dispositional and treatment jurisdiction of the juvenile court or who are prosecuted in a criminal court. From a developmental point of view, there is no single chronological age that marks the boundary between adolescence and adulthood. The processes of neurobiological and psychological maturation that are at the center of a developmental approach to young offenders occur well into their early twenties (Steinberg and Monahan, 2007; Steinberg and Scott, 2003).
As discussed further in Chapter 2, administration of juvenile justice is a complex system with multiple participants who are responsible for holding youths accountable for their offenses and administering to their needs. Each of these participants can bring a different perspective to what the system is and to their role in handling youths. In light of this complexity, the committee has defined certain terminology used in this report, much of which is commonly used in the juvenile justice field but often in different ways in different settings.
The 2013 NRC report (see pp. 18-19) laid out a number of definitions that this committee will continue to use. Thus, the committee uses the term “juvenile” synonymously with “young person” and “youth” to refer to anyone under the age of 18. Note, however, that “juvenile” typically also has a legal definition referring to individuals subject to the jurisdiction of juvenile or family court. The 2013 NRC report (p. 18) noted that “… adolescence has no finite chronological onset or end-point, and there is no legal definition of adolescence per se because the law regards different ages as being legally relevant in different contexts. The science of adolescence refers to a phase in development between childhood and adulthood beginning at puberty, typically about 12 or 13, and ending in the late teens or early 20s.” Therefore, we use the term “adolescence” and “adolescent” to refer to teens or young adults. However, like the 2013 NRC report, the committee focuses on adolescents under age 18, given that 18 is the age of majority and the ceiling of delinquency adjudication in most states.
This report does not discuss the nature of offenses committed by youths or the sanctions given to them. However, the reader may find useful the definitions of delinquency and crime used in the 2013 NRC report (pp. 18-19):
The term “delinquency” refers to acts by a juvenile that would be considered a crime if committed by an adult, as well as to actions that are illegal only because of the age of the offender. “Juvenile crime” or “criminal delinquency” refers to more serious acts that would be crimes if committed by adults. “Status delinquency” offenses include truancy, running away from home, incorrigibility (i.e., habitually disobeying reasonable and lawful commands of a parent, guardian, or custodian; also referred to in various statutes as unruly, uncontrollable, or ungovernable behavior), and liquor law violations. In some states, status delinquents are referred to the child welfare or social service systems, and in others status delinquents are dealt with in the juvenile justice system. “Adjudicated delinquent” or “delinquent” is used synonymously to describe the individual who has been found by the juvenile court to have committed a juvenile crime.
[The earlier report uses] the term “confinement,” depending on the context, to refer to detention before adjudication or to placement in a custodial setting as a disposition after a finding of delinquency. In the dispositional context, it encompasses what are typically called institutional placements or out-of-home residential placements. It is not meant to encompass day treatment or nonresidential, community-based therapeutic programs.
Like the 2013 NRC report, this committee uses the term “justice-involved youths” to refer to youths who come into “contact” with any form of legal authority, including law enforcement, prosecutors, and intake personnel, even if no formal action is taken. We introduce the term “system-involved youths” for those youths who are referred to juvenile court or juvenile intake after police intake and a decision is made to file a formal petition and process the case within the juvenile justice system.
OJJDP has a mandate to undertake delinquency prevention; in defining delinquency prevention this committee found it useful to consider a standard typology of prevention used in public health (Institute of Medicine, 1994; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2009). Preventive interventions are grouped in three broad categories: universal preventive interventions, selective preventive interventions, and indicated preventive interventions. “Universal interventions” are broad and target the general public or an entire population. “Selective interventions” target an individual or subgroup that exhibit significantly higher than average risk4 prior to response or treatment. For purposes of this report, this would refer to times prior to any engagement in delinquent behavior or justice-system involvement, perhaps based on exposure to factors known to be risk factors for future delinquency. “Indicated interventions” target high-risk individuals and focus on the immediate risk and protective factors present in the individual’s environment. The typology recognizes that preventive interventions are most effective when they are appropriately matched to their target population’s level of risk—that is, when interventions focus upon reducing the risk factors and strengthening the protective factors that are most closely related to the problem being addressed (Institute of Medicine, 1994; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2009).
The committee recognizes that OJJDP has a mandate under JJDPA to address delinquency prevention and to support programs that serve juveniles at risk of delinquency. In the past, the category of “at-risk” youths has sometimes been viewed broadly, encompassing what the public health model would characterize as “selective interventions” for youths viewed at elevated risk but not high risk of delinquency. The committee believes that the categories of youths targeted for delinquency prevention programs and services supported by OJJDP should be the youths most at risk of entering the juvenile justice system, such as (i) “justice-involved” youths at risk of formal system involvement and (ii) youths on an identifiable trajectory for system-involvement. In terms of the public health typology, the committee defines “delinquency prevention” under the JJDPA as encompassing “indicated interventions” for “high-risk” youths in these categories where the intervention is intended to prevent or reduce the risk of engaging in delinquency prior to the onset of formal justice system involvement. In addition, it bears emphasis that a core goal of juvenile justice is prevention of re-offending and, accordingly, a key role for OJJDP is to support “indicated interventions” aiming to prevent “system-involved youths” from further penetration in the system and to reduce repeat involvement in the system (recidivism). This was the role most emphasized in the 2013 NRC report.
This report focuses attention on family engagement. In so doing, we use the terms “system-involved families,” “legacy families,” and “families impacted by the system.” The latter encompasses the former two. System-involved families are those immediate family members or adults in a guardian role for system-involved youths. System-involved families and youths have experiences and develop a certain kind of knowledge that cannot be appreciated by those who only work in or study the juvenile justice system. We use the term “legacy families” for families and youths that were once, but are no longer, system-involved and who possess this experiential knowledge, which can be useful for improving policies and practices. In addition to families, there are other participants who are not
4Risk has been defined as a characteristic at the biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural level that precedes and is associated with a higher likelihood of problem outcomes (Institute of Medicine, 1994; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2009).
in the juvenile justice system per se but are influenced by or can influence the juvenile justice system and have a role in holding youths accountable and addressing their needs while the youths are system-involved and upon release from the system. These participants include school administrators and personnel, child welfare administrators and personnel, and community-based service providers. They are described in Chapter 2 and mentioned throughout the report.
As set forth in its charge, this committee was formed for the specific purpose of “building on the recommendations from the 2013 report” in order to develop strategies for OJJDP to “implement a reform plan using a developmental approach.” As a result, the committee drew upon the research and analysis of the 2013 NRC report, including the examination of OJJDP history and current capacity,5 and augmented it with additional testimony and research.
The committee held four meetings during the course of the study. The first three were information-gathering meetings at which we heard presentations from a variety of stakeholders, including representatives from the Office of Justice Programs; OJJDP; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Annie E. Casey Foundation; the Center for Children’s Law and Policy; the National Conference of State Legislatures; the National Center for Juvenile Justice; the W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice, Fairness, and Equity; the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform; the Coalition for Juvenile Justice; and the Justice Policy Institute. See Appendix A for a full list of the speakers and interviews held by committee and staff. The fourth meeting was closed to the public so that the committee could deliberate on the report, finalize its conclusions and recommendations, and construct a prioritized plan with specific action steps as requested by the agency.
As part of its study, the committee engaged a consultant with more than 30 years of operational experience in the agency. It also commissioned a review and analysis of the federal budget to identify funding outside of OJJDP’s budget that explicitly or implicitly targets at-risk and delinquent youths (Hayes, 2014; see discussion in Chapter 5). Although the 2013 NRC report served as primary background for the study (see Appendix B for the report brief and summary of key conclusions of the 2013 NRC report), the committee reviewed other relevant research literature on implementation science, interagency collaboration, change management, cost-benefit analysis, and budgetary prioritization. As noted in the 2013 NRC report, while the experiential evidence is impressive among jurisdictions that have made progress in reforming their systems, there is little systematic empirical evidence regarding the costs and outcomes of these reforms. Nonetheless, the committee notes that there is a research base that can guide juvenile justice reform (see Chapter 2):
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.
(National Research Council, 2013, p. 321)
The committee’s report and guidance for OJJDP has been organized into five chapters. Following this introduction, Chapter 2 builds on the foundation of the 2013 NRC report and outlines the hallmarks of a developmental approach to juvenile justice. This chapter also summarizes OJJDP’s role as a change agent for juvenile justice reform, to set the context for discussion in subsequent chapters. Chapter 3 focuses on the key improvements to OJJDP’s operations, including budgetary considerations, needed to enable the agency to encourage and support juvenile justice reform. It examines how the philosophy of developmental science can guide all policies, practices,
5The 2013 NRC report analyzed both OJJDP’s current status, particularly appropriations, carve-outs, earmarks, grant programs, granting capacity, research and data collection (National Research Council, 2013, pp. 308-320), and the conditions contributing to the agency’s diminished capacity (pp. 281-308).
and decisions within the agency, as well as its research and technical assistance agendas. Chapter 4 considers ways that OJJDP can facilitate system change in individual jurisdictions through state leadership, which includes working with the state advisory groups, providing training and technical assistance, strengthening its approach to reducing racial and ethnic disparities, and supporting demonstration programs. Chapter 5 identifies agencies and organizations whose missions align with juvenile justice reform and highlights opportunities for OJJDP to reshape current collaborations and to establish important new partnerships. As requested by the agency, Chapter 6 provides a roadmap for OJJDP by assembling the report’s recommendations specific to OJJDP and distilling action items from the chapters to provide a 3-year implementation plan.