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.

  • 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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  • David Keene: “Overhaul justice for juveniles”

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, Kentucky, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: March 21, 2014 by Right on Crime

    “As a conservative who puts family first, I am encouraged to see that states are reforming their juvenile justice systems to produce better results for victims, offenders and taxpayers.” Click here to read more from ROC signatory David Keene as he discusses juvenile justice in his op-ed for The News-Enterprise.

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  • Bill Reforming Florida’s Juvenile Justice System Has Some Calling For More Reform

    Posted in Florida, Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: February 25, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Bob McClure, ROC signatory and president of the James Madison Institute, “applauds the effort” of Florida’s bill to reform juvenile justice, but believes that more can be done. “We feel it important to codify the principles and practices borne out by research in Florida’s juvenile justice program that saves money and ensures positive outcomes for [...]

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  • Addressing Truancy: Panel at TPPF’s PO2014

    Posted in Audio and Video, Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: February 17, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of the Texas Senate, The Honorable Steve Teske, Chief Judge of Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Ryan Turner, General Counsel and Director of Education at the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center, and Representative James White of the Texas House of Representatives serve as panelists for “Addressing Truancy: Keeping Kids In School [...]

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  • Smart Juvenile Justice: A TPPF Primer

    Posted in Audio and Video, Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog: February 10, 2014 by Right on Crime

    TPPF Senior Policy Analyst Vikrant Reddy moderates this policy primer featuring Riley Shaw, Chief Juvenile Prosecutor of Tarrant County, George Gascon, D.A. of San Francisco, Judge Pat Lykos and Representative Joe Moody as they discuss methods of improving the juvenile justice system.

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  • GPPF on juvenile justice

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

    In his article “Broken Families, Parents Without Skills, Kids in Juvenile Justice,” Mike Klein discusses juvenile justice reform in Georgia. The article can be viewed here.

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  • The Comeback and Coming-from-Behind States

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog: December 18, 2013 by Right on Crime

    New report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and National Juvenile Justice Network: The conclusion of the Comeback States report made a case that additional reductions in youth incarceration were needed beyond those achieved in the 2001-to-2010 period. Reasons given for the need for further reductions included: the high human and taxpayer costs of youth incarceration; the [...]

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  • Protectionism in Juvenile Corrections

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: November 15, 2013 by Derek M. Cohen

    Suppose you own two automobiles; a brand-new, 8-seat SUV and an old, broken-down coupe.  The SUV is more than capable of safely and conveniently transporting your family to their individual destinations, while every trip with the coupe is a roll of the dice.  Would you pay to keep it running in its current state?  Moreover, [...]

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