One group of adolescents at the greatest risk of failing to successfully transition to adulthood are delinquent youth who end up in the juvenile justice system and or in its detention centers. Youth coming from juvenile justice facilities are usually disproportionately impoverished and often from single-parent homes located in low-income neighborhoods. Often these youth may have high rates of learning disabilities, mental health, and/or substance abuse problems.1
The goal of a state juvenile justice system is to deter youth from committing future illegal acts by implementing a judicial process with consequences oriented around detention.2 The judicial process has many phases which may include: police contact, intake processes, detention, arraignment, evidentiary hearings, and sentencing and probation.3 The juvenile justice system works with the help of a variety of partners from the police, to prosecutors, probation officers, and the department of juvenile corrections.4 A commitment to ensuring America has the best – most effective – juvenile justice system includes working to encourage public policy that supports the successful prevention, rehabilitation, and transition of youth from detention into greater society.
Due to their lengthy involvement in and out of the juvenile justice system, youth often face a lifetime of low educational achievement and eventually struggle with marginal job stability and long term advancement in the labor force. Ultimately, it is the local community and society at large which will pay vast sums to incarcerate many of these youth and to treat others for drug addiction or other public health problems. To break this cycle of poverty and incarceration, there is a dire need to work with youth deeply embedded in the juvenile justice system.
Women In Government recognizes the importance of designing programs aimed to improve the odds of youth successfully transitioning to adulthood. Primary to achieving this goal is reforming the juvenile justice system so that fewer youth are locked up, and programs place more emphasis on interventions designed to create opportunities for positive youth development.
To accomplish this, Women In Government and the Annie E. Casey Foundation are providing education and information to legislators on juvenile justice reform with the following goals:
What can policymakers do?
Legislators from around the country have proposed bills designed to achieve these goals. In Arkansas, Senator Ruth Whitaker and Senator Sue Madison promoted and passed Senate Bill (S.B.) 94, which provides grants for educational programs designed to reach out to at-risk youth who may be in and out of the juvenile justice system.
You can access sample legislation on Juvenile Justice issues here.
Women In Government will continue to work with mutual partners to explore issues related to juvenile justice. For more information see the resources provided below.
Annie E. Casey Foundation : The foundation’s juvenile justice reform agenda is designed to improve the odds that delinquent youth can make successful transitions to adulthood, primarily by reforming juvenile justice systems so that they lock up fewer youth; rely more on proven, family-focused interventions; and create opportunities for positive youth development. To learn more, click here.
Children’s Defense Fund : This is a non-profit child advocacy organization that champions policies and programs that lift children out of poverty; protect them from abuse and neglect; and ensure their access to healthcare, quality education, and a moral and spiritual foundation. To learn more, click here.
National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) : The NJJDPC believes the juvenile justice systems across the United States are in urgent need of reform. The link below is to the NJJDPC report which provides concrete recommendations addressing much‐needed policy and administrative advances in juvenile justice. To learn more, click here.
1. The Casey Foundation's Investment in Juvenile Justice. http://www.aecf.org/Home/OurWork/JuvenileJustice/JuvenileJusticeOverview...
2. State of Idaho Third Judicial District Court Home Page. http://www.the3rdjudicialdistrict.com/parentsjjs.htm.
5. The Casey Foundation's Investment in Juvenile Justice. http://www.aecf.org/Home/OurWork/JuvenileJustice/JuvenileJusticeOverview...
6. The Pew Center on the States, "Better Programs, Better Results". http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2012/Pew_Results_First...
Picture 1: (Central Juvenile Hall | Los Angeles, California 2009) Picture provided courtesy of Richard Ross
Picture 2: (Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility | Kailua, Hawaii 2009) Picture provided courtesy of Richard Ross
Picture 3: (Northwest Regional Youth Center | Kansas City, Missouri 2009) Picture provided courtesy of Richard Ross