Priority Issues: Juvenile Justice

I. The Issue

Cost-effective interventions that leverage the strengths of families and communities to reform troubled youths are critical to a successful juvenile justice system. Youths who “slip through the cracks” may remain in the criminal justice system throughout their lives even though some could have been saved by effective policies during pivotal developmental stages.  However, funds should only be spent on programs that are supported by evidence, and risk and needs assessment should be used to ensure that youths who would be most successful in non-residential programs are not placed in costly residential settings.

II. The Impact

If a juvenile program can prevent a delinquent youth from becoming a career criminal, it is obviously a positive moral outcome for society, as it avoids future victims.  It is also, however, a significant financial boon to the state. In Texas, for example, incarceration in a state juvenile facility costs approximately $270 per day, while diversion or supervision programs range from $7 to $73 per day. While some youths need to be in a residential setting, research has found unnecessary incarceration may actually make lower-risk youths more likely to re-offend, as it co-mingles them with more serious offenders and frays ties to their family and community. Funds saved from reducing unnecessary incarceration can be reallocated to less costly approaches for reforming other youths and preventing delinquency, or returned to taxpayers.

III. The Conservative Solution

• Expand flexibility in funding, so that local jurisdictions may spend funds now used for housing some of their youths in large state youth lockups on less costly community-based programs supported by research.  Effective community-based models include multisystemic therapy, victim-offender mediation, mentoring, vocational programs, and group homes modeled after those in Missouri for youths that require a residential setting.

• Implement evidence-based practices to increase the effectiveness of juvenile probation and parole, such as graduated sanctions that respond to each violation of the rules of supervision with a swift, sure, and commensurate sanction. Graduated incentives should also be employed to reward exemplary conduct. Research has demonstrated graduated responses are far more effective because they send a clear message at the time of the behavior rather than waiting for relatively minor violations to pile up and then applying the ultimate sanction -- revocation to a youth lockup.

• Create policies so that youths are more likely to find employment as adults, reducing the likelihood of recidivating. This may entail, among others, providing additional opportunities for non-violent youth offenders to expunge or decline to disclose records, removing barriers for otherwise qualified applicants with a juvenile record from obtaining occupational licenses, and emphasizing vocational training opportunities for youth offenders.

• Streamline juvenile facilities so that cost savings may be reallocated to other areas of juvenile justice that provide a greater public safety return on the investment. Underutilized facilities, particularly those which are remotely located away from families and qualified treatment personnel, should be closed or consolidated.

• Improve school disciplinary policies so that more misbehavior is corrected at an early stage in school and fewer students drop out or are removed from school and enter the juvenile justice system. Proven approaches include teen courts, community service learning, student behavior contracts, student behavior accounts, and peer mediation.

• Implement policies that require reviews of sentences given to people convicted of crimes committed under age 18 to determine whether, years later, they are fit to return to society.  Victims should be notified about sentencing reviews, which will not guarantee release, but will ensure tax dollars are not wasted on people who have served time in prison for crimes committed as juveniles and no longer pose a threat to society.  This is a fair, cost-effective, age- appropriate way to ensure that juveniles are held accountable for harm they have caused, which offers them an opportunity to redeem themselves.

  • Georgia Targets Huge Gap with Juvenile Justice Databank Project

    Posted in Georgia, Juvenile Justice: December 13, 2014 by Right on Crime

    For discussion purposes, let’s imagine you are a juvenile court judge somewhere in Georgia. A young man and his attorney are standing before you, pleading the boy’s case. Within minutes you will decide whether the boy is sentenced to detention or a community-based program. Something about how the young man tells his story makes you […]

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  • Rating the States: Giving Kids A Second Chance

    Posted in Criminal Justice News, Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog: November 22, 2014 by Dianna Muldrow

    Many people assume that one of the key differences between the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems is that juveniles are able to get their records sealed or expunged once adjudicated. The thing is, very often that doesn’t happen. There are many reasons that we have separate systems for juveniles and adults. It is very […]

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  • Study Finds Idaho Last in Protecting Juvenile Records

    Posted in Criminal Justice News, Idaho, Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog: November 21, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Geoffrey Talmon of the Idaho Freedom Foundation reviews the recent Juvenile Law Center survey of how America’s states protect the records of juvenile offenders in their criminal justice systems. As the the survey notes, “Idaho receives the lowest score because there are no confidentiality protections for juvenile records and very few records are eligible for sealing.” Talmon […]

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  • Giving Kids Adult Records: Cohen and Fowler in the Dallas Morning News

    Posted in Criminal Justice News, Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog, Texas, Video: October 24, 2014 by Right on Crime

    The Dallas Morning News published a piece by Right on Crime policy analyst Derek Cohen and Deborah Fowler, deputy director for Texas Appleseed. They write that, despite large criminal justice reform waves sweeping across Texas, there is still one area where government over reach and inefficiency is apparent. Truancy, previously a minor misbehavior dealt with by parents […]

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  • New York Violence Against Youths

    Posted in Criminal Justice News, Juvenile Justice, New York: October 9, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Very few states charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, but New York is one of them. And now these much younger individuals are learning violence from those already proven to be proficient. A report shows that constitutional rights have been routinely violated on Rikers Island, with high violence levels showing that these youths are not […]

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  • Marc Levin’s Charleston Gazette letter to the editor

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, West Virginia: June 30, 2014 by Right on Crime

    ROC policy director Marc Levin authored a letter to the editor of the Charleson Gazette congratulating West Virginia policymakers for implementing cost-effective juvenile justice reforms that will also increase public safety. Editor: Congratulations to leaders in West Virginia for kicking off a data-driven process to examine the costs and outcomes of their juvenile justice system. […]

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  • “Feds Authorize New Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform Dollars”

    Posted in Georgia, Juvenile Justice, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: June 18, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Federal juvenile justice officials have noticed Georgia’s aggressive reforms and must like what they see because Washington is offering to pony up hundreds of thousands of new dollars to help the state implement ongoing juvenile reforms. On Monday the U.S. Justice Department said it could make up to $600,000 available this year, with similar offers […]

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  • North Carolina’s “Raise the Age” bill

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, North Carolina, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: May 30, 2014 by Right on Crime

    The bipartisan bill to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction passed the N.C. House and will now move on to the Senate. The legislation aims to raise the age of youth jurisdiction so that 16- and 17-year olds who allegedly commit misdemeanors are handled in the juvenile system. Sixteen and 17-year-olds accused of felonies will […]

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  • Marc Levin on “Capital Tonight”

    Posted in Audio and Video, Juvenile Justice, North Carolina, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: May 29, 2014 by Right on Crime

    ROC Policy Director Marc Levin appeared on “Capital Tonight” to talk about North Carolina’s Raise the Age bill.

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  • Levin: “Give Youths Sentenced As Adults A Second Look Later”

    Posted in Connecticut, Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: April 29, 2014 by Right on Crime

    In Connecticut you must be 18 to vote, serve on a jury or enter into a contract. The law recognizes that adolescents are less equipped to make important decisions than adults are. Yet in one area, state law fails to distinguish between children and adults. Connecticut sentences people to spend the rest of their lives […]

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