Development Approach in Juvenile Justice Reform Spreading, Study Finds

Over the last fifteen years, every state in the country has implemented some developmentally appropriate juvenile justice reforms, a report from Models for Change: Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice, an initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, finds.

The report, Juvenile Justice Reform Takes Root Across States (47 pages, PDF), found that advances in the understanding of adolescent development have led to progress in juvenile justice reform at the state level. Among other things, the analysis found that states have enacted legislation to minimize youths' contact with the justice system by prohibiting the pretrial detention of status offenders; keep youth in the appropriate justice system by raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and reforming rules for transfer to adult court; protect youth in the courtroom by providing access to counsel, ensuring their competency to stand trial, and limiting shackling; adopt developmentally appropriate confinement practices by prohibiting or restricting the use of solitary confinement; and remove obstacles to reintegration into the community by protecting juvenile records and reforming rules for sex offender registration.

At the same time, the report found considerable room for improvement in all policy areas and by all states to better take into account new findings about adolescents' developmental immaturity, competency, ability to change, need for support that fosters healthy development, and vulnerability to psychological damage.

"[W]hile we have not seen the progress we would like on all fronts or in all states, we have seen important advances, from landmark Supreme Court decisions citing developmental research, to state laws and local policies and programs that treat youth in supportive, age-appropriate ways while holding them accountable for their actions," MacArthur Foundation president Julia Stasch wrote in a letter for the report. "We have seen significant drops in youth confinement and a growing recognition across the political spectrum of what it means to be 'smart on crime'. These successes are evidence that change can happen — that it does happen — when research and resources are focused on what might seem to be an overwhelming problem."

"Juvenile Justice Reform Takes Root Across States." John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation 12/14/2015.