Much of the nation has seen a drop in the incarceration rates for juvenile offenders, in part because of tight state budgets and falling crime rates.
That a trend has been established is not in question, say advocates. What remains to be seen, however, is whether this will be short lived or will prove to be a permanent shift in juvenile justice policy.
A study by researchers at the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice released this week attempts to answer these larger questions and highlights some of what the authors believe to be some of the more sustainable examples of juvenile justice reform being implemented around the country.
Resolution, Reinvestment and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice, by Jeffrey Butts and Donald Evans, asks what the reaction of policy makers will be when and if crime rates rise again and state budgets manage to rebound.
The researchers ask if today’s successful reforms can survive the future political and budget debates in a climate of get-tough-on-crime and flush state budgets.
Butts and Evans look across 40 years of models of juvenile justice reform, recommending California’s realignment approach – a system that has given local governments more authority in juvenile correction – as the most likely to be sustainable.
The authors also point to models in Massachusetts and Utah in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as more recent innovations in Ohio, Illinois and Texas as examples of reforms that work.