The Kids are Alright: The Need for City-Led Juvenile Justice Reform

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A new resource is available for city leaders committed to increasing public safety and improving youth outcomes through juvenile justice reform. NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) also recently announced the selection of six cities to receive technical assistance for juvenile justice reform projects.

Infographic: Inside the Juvenile Justice SystemNLC’s new Municipal Action Guide (MAG), Increasing Public Safety and Improving Outcomes for Youth through Juvenile Justice Reform, documents the results of a year-long survey of opportunities and examples for city-led juvenile justice reform. Cities can increase public safety and improve outcomes for youth by implementing strategies that hold them accountable for their actions in more effective, equitable and developmentally appropriate ways. The guide also emphasizes that youth need individualized responses at every point in their involvement with the juvenile justice system.

Progress must include breaking down collaboration barriers among agencies and service providers that touch young people. Strong partnerships with county and state agencies can also enable city leaders to foster community-based alternatives to arrest and prosecution, reduce racial and ethnic disparities at the point of arrest and reconnect youth leaving the system with supportive community resources.

The MAG recommends several early steps in local juvenile justice reform, including:

  • Identify first steps to reforms based on existing activities.
  • Implement training to change the nature of law enforcement interactions with youth.
  • Utilize objective decision-making tools at arrest.
  • Create mechanisms for referring youth to community-based alternatives to arrest and prosecution.
  • Implement a continuum of high-quality community-based services.
  • Open community-based services to youth re-entering the community.Create agreements to support local goals and facilitate information sharing.

The MAG also highlights several local examples, including innovative programs and policies in Tucson, Ariz., Gainesville, Fla., Minneapolis, Minn., and Baltimore, Md.

Six Cities to Receive Technical Assistance
Using this new resource as a foundation, the YEF Institute also launched a new technical assistance initiative. NLC selected these cities to join the initiative:

  • Gresham, Ore.
  • Las Vegas, Nev.
  • Little Rock, Ark.
  • Minneapolis, Minn.
  • New Orleans, La.
  • Philadelphia, Pa.

The technical assistance will include a Mayor’s Institute for Children and Families focused on juvenile justice reform. The YEF Institute has led Mayor’s Institutes to successfully engage multiple mayors as champions and leaders on a wide range of issues. Immediately following the Mayor’s Institute, city teams will draft action plans at a cross-site meeting. YEF Institute staff will support cities to implement these action plans during the ensuing months through site visits and regular cross-city opportunities for learning and collaboration.

City Leaders Recognized As Key Allies in National Juvenile Justice Reform Movement
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative recognizes that local leaders play a key role in juvenile justice reform, and supports NLC’s work in this area. Models for Change also brings local leaders to its annual conference, which is taking place December 15-16 this year. The conference provides key opportunities for local leaders to engage with juvenile justice experts and better understand how to become involved in local reform efforts.

This year’s conference will welcome several city leaders to Washington, D.C. A workshop featuring Councilmember Ricki Barlow from Las Vegas, Nev. and Gainesville, Fla. Chief of Police Tony Jones will provide concrete examples of local reforms and recommendations to juvenile justice practitioners on engaging local leaders early and consistently in juvenile justice reform.

the Author: Laura Furr, Senior Associate for Juvenile Justice Reform in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @Laura_Furr. For more information about the Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform initiative, email Laura at