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
(Central Juvenile Hall | Los Angeles, California 2009) Picture provided courtesy of Richard Ross
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 them and to treat others for drug addiction or other public health problems. Therefore, the need to work with youth deeply embedded within the juvenile justice system in order to break the cycle of poverty and incarceration is dire.
Women In Government recognizes the importance of designing programs aimed to improve the odds of delinquent 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, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and now Women In Government, are providing education and information to legislators on juvenile justice reform with the following goals:
• Minimize the likelihood that youth would be locked up unnecessarily or in poor conditions;
• Improve the odds that youth would be placed in less confining alternatives within their communities;
• Reduce racial disparities among the youth incarcerated;
• Improve conditions of confinement for those in secure detention; and
• Redirect public money toward improving the system.5
(Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility | Kailua, Hawaii 2009) Picture provided courtesy of Richard Ross
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 serve on the Joint Budget Committee. They promoted and passed Senate Bill (S.B.) 94. This legislation provides grants for educational programs designed to reach out to at-risk youth who may be in and out of the juvenile justice system.
In Connecticut, the Joint Judiciary Committee sponsored S.B. 442, which concerns the prevention of urban youth delinquency and violence by proposing a pilot program in the city of Hartford. The program is designed to reduce the number of youths who come into contact with the juvenile justice system by creating a Connecticut Young Adult Conservation Corps program. Behind the bill is Senator Beth Bye, who serves as the chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. She has a legislative history of supporting and proposing bills oriented around ensuring youth in Connecticut have access to high quality education and programming that will lead them away from gang violence and the juvenile justice system and towards a college education and upward mobility.
(Northwest Regional Youth Center | Kansas City, Missouri 2009) Picture provided courtesy of Richard Ross
Representative Ray Pilon of Florida proposed and passed House Bill (H.B.) 173. H.B. 173 revises and expands the types of services offered to juveniles in the justice system. In particular, the bill allows for the creation and implementation of innovative programs that would provide rehabilitative treatment for youth and include mother-infant programs. The bill also authorizes the department, at the secretary's discretion, to pay up to specified amount toward basic funeral expenses for youth who die while in custody of the department and whose parents or guardians are impoverished or in the case where there is no other source of funding available.
The state of Washington instituted quality assurance monitoring to increase the effectiveness of its juvenile justice programs. In 2002, the state legislature requested an evaluation of its juvenile justice programs. The evaluation was conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and revealed that recidivism and costs were lower for juveniles when therapy was delivered strictly according to the evidence-based program model. Any deviation from this model by the providers resulted in higher recidivism6. From these results, the state placed greater emphasis on provider development and corrective action towards program sites. Through cost-benefit analysis and outcome reporting systems, Washington has saved money and seen the number of youth committed to state institutions cut in half7.
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 system so that they lock up fewer youth, rely more on proven, family-focused interventions, and create opportunities for positive youth development. For 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. For 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. For 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.
3. State of Idaho Third Judicial District Court Home Page. http://www.the3rdjudicialdistrict.com/parentsjjs.htm.
4. 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...
7. The Pew Center on the States, "Better Programs, Better Results". http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2012/Pew_Results_First...