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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • Levin, Arlinghaus: A dose of commonsense in criminal justice

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog: April 21, 2014 by Right on Crime

    The Legislature is considering whether 17-year-olds should always be tried as adult or whether the system should have some discretion. It is reasonable and common-sense reform to adopt a system, like 40 other states, that allows 17-year-olds to be tried as adults if warranted but does not require it. The proposal, House Bill 1624, is […]

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  • The Washington Post: “Study looks at kids who do time for offenses that aren’t crimes”

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog: April 11, 2014 by Right on Crime

    The Washington Post discusses Texas Public Policy Foundation’s newly released report “Kids Doing Time for What’s Not a Crime: The Over-Incarceration of Status Offenders,” saying “we need resist the impulse to address every societal problem with the criminal justice system. It’s a blunt instrument, and especially with kids, applying it inappropriately causes a lot more harm […]

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  • Marc Levin: Why Are We Jailing Youth For Non-Violent Offenses?

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog: April 9, 2014 by Right on Crime

    ROC policy director Marc Levin writes in Talking Points Memo: If you miss one too many days of work or stay out for the night when you said you’d be home, you might find yourself in hot water, but chances are you won’t wind up in trouble with the law, or worse, in jail. While […]

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  • Austin American-Statesman: “Keep 17-year-olds in juvenile system”

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: April 2, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Marc Levin: “Certainly, hold [juvenile offenders] accountable. But in the right place and under the right circumstances — and that is not adult prison.” Click here to read more.

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