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Right on Crime | October 5, 2011
Last month, two researchers with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice released a report that offers a comprehensive overview and evaluation of the various juvenile justice reform techniques undertaken in the past 40 years.
Specifically, the report classifies each reform effort as one of three types. Resolution models are those with a primary component of managerial action and state leadership. Reinvestment models concern the use of financial incentives for local governments who reduce their reliance on state prisons and jails. Finally, realignment models reorganize juvenile justice away from largely state-operated facilities towards more locally-operated treatment.
This categorization led the researchers to conclude that while any of the models can be effective, realignment models are the most likely to be sustainable over the long term. Specifically, the authors pointed towards the possibility for political change in government resulting in a reversal in resolution and reinvestment models. A simple bill or policy change that results in different statewide priorities or a financial incentive program can easily be undone, according to the report. The same cannot be said when state prisons are demolished and state agencies abolished within a realignment model.
The report discusses two separate states that have undergone juvenile justice realignment. In Michigan, when the state’s juvenile justice system was found to be inadequate for youth offenders in Wayne County, the County signed an agreement with the state assuming the responsibility for the system itself, using local and private programs, with funds diverted from the state’s reduced financial obligation. The result was lower costs and lower rates of incarceration.
The second example is in California, which in 2007 transferred almost all juvenile justice responsibility to the counties, except for the most violent juvenile offenders. This top-down reform has not been without its difficulties—but, ultimately, incarceration rates dropped as a result, to the point that California may close its state agency for juvenile corrections altogether.
This report provides background and analyses and different methods of reform. It is essential that each is studied carefully to determine which will provide the best results for each state system.