Study Highlights Shift to Community-Based Juvenile Justice Strategies

Study Highlights Shift to Community-Based Juvenile Justice Strategies

Responding to research demonstrating the detrimental long-term effects of youth incarceration, states and localities have begun to implement community-based strategies to prevent, intervene in, and address harmful and/or illegal behavior by youth, a report from the Urban Institute finds. 

Funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, the report, Promoting a New Direction for Youth Justice: Strategies to Fund a Community-Based Continuum of Care and Opportunity (HTMLor PDF, 48 pages), identifies a number of strategies for securing funds needed to invest in comprehensive alternatives, particularly in disenfranchised communities where youth are disproportionately at risk of justice system involvement. Conducted in collaboration with the Youth First Initiative, the study focuses on four such strategies — capturing savings from reduced youth incarceration rates and facility closures; leveraging facility land value to support community investment; leveraging existing state and federal funding opportunities; and employing innovative strategies to generate new funding.

According to the report, a "community-based continuum of care and opportunity" should encompass non-residential programs, supports, resources, and services that promote healthy development, improve family functioning, meet essential needs, and strengthen neighborhoods — including access to physical and mental health care and addiction treatment, civic engagement and service-learning opportunities, early childhood care and education, parenting programs, educational and vocational support and programming, violence prevention and gang intervention programs, and support for basic needs such as safe and affordable housing, adequate nutrition, and reliable transportation. 

The report highlights case studies of states (Kansas, California) and localities that have successfully redirected savings resulting from lower youth incarceration rates — down 50 percent in most states over the past decade — to youth services, as well as those that have repurposed former corrections facilities as community resources, including a teen community center in Arizona, a technology park in New York, and a mixed-income sustainable living community in Michigan. Other case studies illustrate how state and federal funding streams can be combined with each other and/or with other funding strategies such as new taxes, pay-for-success models, participatory budgeting, Opportunity Zones, anchor institutions, and savings from cannabis legalization to address the needs of youth and families.

"Communities across the country are increasingly embracing community-based strategies to prevent and address harmful youth behaviors and looking for ways to fund them," said Samantha Harvell, one of the report's authors. "This report offers a menu of options that jurisdictions have used to fund community-based public safety solutions and covers a range of innovative ideas, from redirecting savings from youth prison reduction to levying a new tax."

"Now is the time to end our reliance on youth incarceration and instead invest in community-based solutions which we know work better," said Youth First Initiative president and CEO Liz Ryan. "We have long had the research that shows incarceration does more to hurt justice-involved youth than help. Now, we have the strategies and success stories to show how community-based care is not just possible but a winning strategy for communities and kids most affected by the youth justice system."

"New Report Outlines Practical Community-Based Solutions for Youth Justice." Urban Institute Press Release 03/27/2019. Samantha Harvell, Chloe Warnberg, Leah Sakala, Constance Hull. "Promoting a New Direction for Youth Justice: Strategies to Fund a Community-Based Continuum of Care and Opportunity." Urban Institute Report 03/27/2019.