Juvenile Justice

THE ISSUE.  Youths who “slip through the cracks” may remain in the criminal justice system throughout their lives even though some would have chosen a better path if effective policies had been available during pivotal developmental stages.  Cost-effective interventions that leverage the strengths of families and communities to reform troubled youths are critical to an effective juvenile justice system. Funds should only be spent on evidence-based programs, and risk and needs assessment should be utilized to ensure that youths who would be most successful in non-residential programs are not placed in costly confinement.

THE IMPACT.  If a juvenile program can prevent a delinquent youth from becoming a career criminal, it means safer neighborhoods and more productive citizens. Research suggests that low-risk youths who are incarcerated have higher re-offending rates compared to similarly situated youths who receive alternative punishments to confinement, as it co-mingles low-risk offenders with more serious offenders while fraying ties to family and community. While some youths need to be held accountable in a residential setting to ensure public safety, youth lockups can also be a drain on state budgets. In Texas, for example, incarceration in a state juvenile facility costs approximately $440 per day, while diversion or supervision programs range from $14 to $76 per day. Funds saved from reducing unnecessary incarceration can be reinvested in less costly approaches for reforming other youths and preventing delinquency, or returned to taxpayers.


– Expand flexibility in funding, so that local jurisdictions may spend funds now used for large state youth lockups on less costly community-based programs.  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.

Solitary Confinement

Scott Peyton | October 29, 2019
In my former career as a probation and parole officer, several events completely changed how I viewed my job.  One such event occurred when I was a juvenile probation…

Sentencing reform is critical for youth in the justice system

Marc Levin | September 17, 2018
This article by Marc Levin and Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, originally appeared in The Hill September 16, 2018. As states…

Juvenile justice still isn’t in Louisiana

Elain Ellerbe | June 20, 2018
Photo credit: Matthew Hinton of The Advocate  Long before Louisiana dived into reforming its criminal justice system lawmakers restructured the state’s juvenile system with the passage of the Juvenile…

Tennessee’s Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 sets the stage for sweeping reform in the future

Julie Warren | May 7, 2018
The 110th General Assembly of the Tennessee Legislature just wrapped up. There were a number of steps taken toward meaningful justice reform. The most notable reform—in my view—is the…

Raising the age is conservative reform

Right on Crime | April 11, 2018
This article by Right on Crime signatory and director of the National Juvenile Justice Prosecution Center, Susan Broderick, originally appeared in The Post and Courier April 6th 2018. In…

Why are unruly kids going into the juvenile justice system, and why am I paying for it?

Julie Warren | March 7, 2018
The Joint Ad-Hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice raised issues related to the significant number of kids being removed from their homes for unruly or minor delinquent…

When it comes to juvenile justice, family involvement is best for kids and communities

Haley Holik | March 5, 2018
This article by Haley Holik originally appeared in TribTalk, March 5th, 2018.   Gov. Greg Abbott recently called for significant changes to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, noting the agency faces…

Why Conservatives Should Support Juvenile Justice Reform

Right on Crime | February 6, 2018
This article by Right on Crime Signatory and former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee,  originally appeared in AL.com on February 6th, 2018. As conservatives and people of faith, we know that…

Data Collection and Sharing is Necessary for Effective Juvenile Justice Reform in Tennessee

Julie Warren | January 3, 2018
A prosecutor from another state recently asked me about Tennessee’s recidivism rate for juvenile offenders, to which my answer was, “I don’t know.” To be fair, no one in…

Should we spend $89,000 to separate a child from his parents?

Manfred Wendt | July 31, 2017
We all make mistakes, but not all mistakes result in the same consequences. Sometimes, consequences can lead to the restriction of liberty. For children, in more extreme cases, it…

Louisiana Supreme Court’s Historic Ruling for Juveniles

Elain Ellerbe | July 28, 2017
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision that sentencing juveniles with life without parole was unconstitutional in 2010, it took Louisiana seven years to act. During…

Kentucky’s Commitment to Criminal Justice Reform

Julie Warren | July 25, 2017
The State of Kentucky has exhibited tremendous leadership in the area of criminal justice reform.  Over the last few years the State has endeavored to thoroughly examine its adult…
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