Working for Juvenile Justice Reform? Here’s What City Leaders Need to Know.

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This new research-to-practice memo outlines exactly how city leaders can reach better public safety and youth development outcomes.

(Getty Images)
Recent research shows that juvenile justice systems that deliver harsh punishments in response to youth delinquency actually produce worse results in terms of public safety and youth development. (Getty Images)

The new Research to Practice Memo: How City Leaders Can Draw Upon Adolescent Development Research Findings to Provide a Framework for Juvenile Justice Reform provides a ready resource for city leaders who want to apply the most up-to-date research on adolescence to local juvenile justice reform initiatives. Supported by a wealth of juvenile justice reform resources, cities across the country continue to reform how local agencies respond to misbehaving or delinquent youth.

The Memo outlines how city leaders stand to reach better public safety and youth development outcomes by:

  • creating a robust continuum of community-based alternatives to the juvenile justice system,
  • making the first point of contact with police an opportunity for referral to services, and
  • using risk and needs assessments to match the right youth with the right services.

In addition, city leaders can publicly call for their partners in county or state juvenile justice agencies to align their services and policies with research about what works for adolescents.

A strong continuum includes core positive youth development opportunities for all youth. The core opportunities include a relationship with a caring adult, association with peers who model positive choices, and participation in work, community service, and extracurricular activities that require independent decision making and critical thinking. Substance use treatment and more intensive services, such as Family Functional Therapy, should be provided to all youth who need them, but only to youth with those needs. Over-prescribing services can harm youth and families.

Ensuring fairness throughout police practices and community-based alternatives also matches the research of what works for young people. Restorative practices, such as community conferencing, that engage the young person in decision making can support perceptions of fairness.

Recent research includes the finding that juvenile justice systems that respond punitively to youth delinquency actually produce worse results in terms of public safety and youth development. Harsh punishments, such as handcuffing and detention, meted out by the juvenile justice system lead more often to youth skipping school, dropping out, and committing another crime. City leaders working to reach better youth development outcomes and improve public safety, especially in the long term, will find greater success by applying the lessons learned from this research.

Laura FurrAbout the Author: Laura E. Furr is the program manager for justice reform and youth engagement in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr and be reached at