Reform Trends


What works? While it was once erroneously believed that “nothing works” to help youth (and adults) in the justice system, rigorous scientific research has dispelled this myth and demonstrated that there are many juvenile justice programs, policies, and practices that work to reduce recidivism and help youth develop into healthy, productive adults. Below is information detailing many evidence-based reform trends for intervening effectively with youth in trouble with the law.

Click on a topic below for more information:

1.)    Using Evidence-Based Treatment Programs

2.)    Using Evidence-Based Policies and Practices

3.)    Evidence-Based Tools for Intervening with Youth

4.)    Effective Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices

5.)    Ensuring Evidence-Based Practices Work with Diverse Youth

6.)    Promising Policies and Practices

7.)    Rethinking Juvenile Justice

1.) Using Evidence-Based Treatment Programs

Evidence-based treatment programs,  such as various forms of family therapy and cognitive-behavioral interventions, are designed to change a youth’s behavior and are often brand-named (such as Functional Family Therapy and Multi-Systemic Therapy). While evidence-based treatment programs are primarily designed for use in the community instead of institutional settings, most have been adapted for use in both settings. Studies have found many of these programs are more effective at reducing recidivism (and cost significantly less) than incarceration. Below are examples of strategies states have used to expand the use of evidence-based programs:

Strategies: Administrative

Strategies: Legislative

Strategies: Litigation

2.) Using Evidence-Based Policies and Practices

Evidence-based policies refer to broad strategies to reduce youthful offending that have been shown to be effective. (For example, if rigorous research showed that wide-scale implementation of a particular community-based supervision practice reduced probation revocations, that would be an example of an evidence-based policy.[1])

Evidence-based practices refers here to generic practices, such as mentoring and skill development, that may be used by agencies treating youth on their own, as part of generic programs, or in combination with brand-name treatment programs.[2]

Identifying Generic Policies and Practices that Work

Historically, most interventions for youth in the justice system have been evaluated with respect to their adherence to a specific protocol, curriculum, and set of practices. In contrast, the Standardized Program Evaluation Protocol (SPEP) approach is based on a systematic research review and meta-analysis of commonly-implemented generic program types (such as family therapy). Researchers identified “what worked” and developed best practice guidelines for implementing them or improving existing practices. In this way, SPEP has worked to extend evidence-based practice beyond brand-name programs.[3]

In brief, the SPEP approach is as follows:

      • SPEP itemizes the characteristics of effective programs.
      • Three characteristics have been found to be most strongly correlated with how effective a program is:[4]
          1. the type of program;
          2. the amount and quality of service delivered; and
          3. the risk level of the youth in the program.
      • SPEP creates a metric for measuring a provider’s program that assigns varying points to programs based on how closely the program’s characteristics match those associated with the best recidivism outcomes for similar programs.[5]
      • Administrators can use this metric to assess their current programs and identify methods to improve them.
      • The SPEP tool has been implemented through the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform in a number of jurisdictions, including North Carolina and Arizona, where it has led to recidivism reductions.[6]
      • The following sites were selected by Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform to participate in intensive training and receive technical assistance to implement the Juvenile Justice System Improvement Project which provides a framework for improving juvenile justice practice that utilizes the SPEP approach:[7]
          • Maricopa County, AZ
          • Hartford, CT
          • Pinellas County, FL
          • Berks County, PA

+ Strategies: Administrative

  • Arizona and North Carolina[8]
      • The Arizona Juvenile Justice Services Division (JJSD) began implementing SPEP in five pilot counties in 2006. Subsequently, it expanded SPEP to all JJSD funded programs in the state. Follow-up activities encouraged providers to plan program improvements to elevate their SPEP scores.
      • The North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (DJJDP) initiated a SPEP program in 2001 in select counties and then did a statewide rollout in 2006. The SPEP tool allowed DJJDP to do a statewide evaluation of the presumptive effectiveness of the community-based programs counties were increasingly using with youth.
      • Studies conducted of both states found that the SPEP scores for the rated programs were related to the recidivism rates of youth served by those programs; youth with equal risk of recidivism had lower recidivism rates when served by programs with high SPEP scores than when served by programs with low SPEP scores.

Specific Generic Practices
While there are currently far fewer practices and policies that have been scientifically tested through rigorous research than the number of programs that have been tested, below are some examples of practices that have been studied to determine their effectiveness.

+ Strategies: Administrative

  • Mentoring
    Mentoring is a practice that “provides at-risk youth with a positive and consistent adult or older peer contact to promote healthy development and functioning by reducing risk factors (such as lack of commitment to school or drug use) and strengthening protective factors (such as healthy beliefs and prosocial involvement).”[9]

      • The National Institute of Justice’s website has rated mentoring as an effective practice for dealing with youth at risk of delinquency or engaged in delinquent behavior based on a meta-analysis by Tolan and colleagues (2008) of 20 mentoring studies that included delinquency outcomes.[10]
      • The practice profile of mentoring on’s website provides more detailed information about the types of mentoring programs and the studies done.
  • Targeted Truancy Interventions
    Targeted truancy interventions are practices “designed to increase attendance for elementary and secondary school students with chronic attendance problems.”[11]

      • Most truancy interventions focus on a risk/protective factors framework, but many different types of interventions, settings, approaches and strategies are used.[12]
      • Programs can include a number of different components, such as academic remediation/tutoring, counseling, and parent outreach.[13]
      • There are also many different practice settings, including:[14]
          •  systems level —  seeks to modify a school district’s existing policies and procedures;
          • court-based programs — uses the courts to coordinate and oversee the delivery of services;
          • school-based programs — aims for early identification of truancy and absentee problems before they become chronic; and
          • community-level programs — involves the collaboration of various systems in the community.
      • The National Institute of Justice’s website has rated targeted truancy intervention as an effective practice for increasing school attendance based on two meta-analyses of these programs.[15]

3.) Evidence-Based Tools for Intervening with Youth

While some evidence-based policies and practices may be broadly applied to all youth in that system – such as school-wide evidence-based disciplinary practices – many evidence-based programs are developed and geared for particular youth and are not appropriate for every youth involved with the juvenile justice system. Risk, needs, and responsivity principles provide guidance, grounded in research evidence on how to intervene most effectively with justice-involved youth.

Below is information on the evidence-based processes and tools that have been developed for using these risk, needs, and responsivity principles.

A.  Evidence-based Risk Assessment

This is a process that uses “standardized, empirically-validated risk assessment instruments and professional judgment, in order to collect and use characteristics of the youth and the youth’s circumstances in making the best decisions for intervention and management of the case to reduce risk.”[16]

    • Risk Assessment Instruments
      Risk assessment tools are used to determine a youth’s likelihood of reoffending. These tools usually rate youth based on risk factors, criminogenic needs (also known as dynamic risk factors), protective factors, and responsivity factors.
    • These tools can be used to guide intervention decisions for youth who have been adjudicated or found to be delinquent.
    • A special type of risk assessment is used at the door of detention centers to help staff make objective decisions about which youth can be effectively supervised in the community.[17]

B.  Benefits of Risk Assessment Tools

Well-designed and properly implemented risk assessments can:

    • reduce recidivism by more effectively matching interventions and services with the appropriate youth and tailoring programming to factors tied most closely to reoffending; [18]
    • reduce costs by reducing the provision of unneeded services to youth, avoiding unnecessary confinement, and ensuring that services and interventions tailored to a youth’s needs are provided in a more streamlined way;[19]
    • minimize subjective judgments of those involved in making judgments about a youth’s risk to public safety and case management needs, which reduces bias;[20] and
    • reduce the number of youth unnecessarily detained or securely confined by clarifying and narrowing the criteria necessary to confine youth.[21]

C.  Challenges of Risk Assessment Tools

Making the decision to use a risk assessment tool is not the end of the process. Stakeholders must use care to select a tool that is effective and is appropriate for the local youth population. Some common issues are below.

    • Over-Identification of Youth of Color as High-Risk
      It is crucial to select a risk assessment tool that was examined for measurement bias among different racial and ethnic groups, and particularly the groups most prevalent in the local population. Otherwise, youth of color may be over-identified as high risk, exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities.[22]

    • Too Broad in  Focus
      It is important to make sure that the risk assessment tool does not include items unrelated to recidivism, such as “well-being” needs like special education or mental health problems, or it could lead to youth being inappropriately categorized as high-risk.[23]
    • Poorly Implemented
      If not implemented properly, the risk assessment tool is not likely to be effective. Implementation can be challenging, ideally requiring the following:[24]

        • establishment of a cross-disciplinary committee of key juvenile justice stakeholders to establish buy-in for using the tool and help select an appropriate tool;
        • good oversight, which includes a method for quality assurance to make sure the tool is used consistently and reliably by different assessors; and
        • a data system to track outcomes for youth being assessed and to ensure that there is no bias in the tool or in how it is being used.
    • Inadequate Testing and Validation
      A recent study of eight risk assessment instruments used in 10 different jurisdictions found that the power of some risk assessment instruments to accurately classify youthful offenders by risk level may have been overestimated. [25] The researchers who conducted the study made a number of recommendations, including the following:

        • reliability testing and validation studies should be done on instruments before and after they are transferred to other jurisdictions;[26]
        • in particular, agencies must check and customize risk classifications based on local population sample characteristics;[27]
        • experts should develop national standards with clear guidelines for assessing the reliability, validity, and equity of existing instruments.[28]

A number of states and localities are now using risk assessment tools. Below are some examples of these.

+ Strategies: Administrative

  • Missouri
    The Office of State Courts Administrator developed a Juvenile Offender Classification System used by 35 of their 45 judicial circuits.[29] It includes the following:

  • New Jersey[30]
    New Jersey’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative’s Screening Subcommittee of the State Steering Committee developed its own detention screening tool, called the Statewide Risk Screening Tool, to guide decision-making at the point of referral to court intake services.
  • Oregon[31]
    The Central and Eastern Oregon Juvenile Justice Consortium, with support from the Oregon Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, developed a risk assessment guide to use in making pre-adjudicatory detention decisions. It includes a detention risk assessment instrument to serve as a guide in determining the youth’s risk to commit additional offenses, and assurance that the youth will attend hearings.
  • Washington[33]
    The Washington State Center for Court Research (WSCCR), with help from the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, developed an assessments research database, which compiles detailed information on delinquent youth who are screened as medium- to high-risk for future offending. The assessment is used to assign youth to appropriate evidence-based treatment and the database is used to track the effects of treatment on attitudes and behavior.

+ Strategies: Legislative

  • Wyoming
    House Enrolled Act 5, passed in 2010, required county sheriffs to develop a uniform detention risk assessment instrument to be used with youth who have already been detained to help determine their level of detention while they are awaiting trial, which can include release.[34]

+ Strategies: Judicial Initiatives

  • Missouri[35]
    The Missouri Supreme Court issued a Court Operating Rule, effective January 1, 2012, mandating that all juvenile officers and detention intake staff be trained on and then use the Juvenile Detention Assessment (JDTA) instrument as a guide in determining whether to place youth in secure detention prior to adjudication. The JDTA is a written checklist used to rate each youth for specific detention-related risks and was developed to address the inappropriate detention of youth based on race, gender, or offense. The Court Rule further states that generally youth should not be held in secure detention unless they present a risk to public safety or may fail to appear in court for their hearings.

4.) Effective Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices

Effective implementation of an evidence-based practice is just as important to a successful outcome as selecting an evidence-based practice and can be a complex process. Whether adopting a particular evidence-based treatment program to use with youth or implementing a new agency-wide evidence-based policy, some of the same challenges are involved, as it is generally difficult for agencies to modify the way they operate.[36]

Go here for specific guidance on how to implement evidence-based practices effectively.

A.  Comprehensive Models of Implementation

Below are examples – not all of which are specific to juvenile justice —of different comprehensive models of implementation for evidence-based practices.

+ Strategies: Administrative

  • Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network
    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) established the ATTC Network in 1993 to increase awareness and implementation of evidence-based and promising treatment and recovery practices among addiction treatment practitioners, and to facilitate regional and national alliances of treatment professionals and other stakeholders. It is comprised of 14 regional centers and a national office. [37]
  • The ATTC Network helps to spread the use of evidence-based practices by addiction treatment practitioners through a process of “technology transfer” which is designed to accelerate the diffusion of an innovation by:[38]
      • promoting awareness of it;
      • “translating” it – or explaining its essential elements and relevance, and then packaging it for dissemination to the field;
      • providing training, technical assistance, and periodic coaching sessions to help implement it; and
      • continuing to shape the practice by its use in real-world settings in a process termed “bi-directionality” – changes are made as necessary through what is learned in using the practice, and then these changes are evaluated through research.
  • Communities that Care (CTC)
    Communities that Care (CTC) forms collaborative community partnerships among stakeholders to encourage and assist with the adoption and implementation of prevention-oriented  evidence-based practices that reduce the risk of youth behavior problems and enhance youth protective factors.[39] CTC involves a five-step process for working with communities to prevent youth problems and foster positive youth development.[40]
  • Community Development Team Model
    The California Institute for Mental Health (CiMH) developed this implementation model to promote the implementation and sustainability of evidence-based mental health practices in the public mental health system to improve care for children and adults.[41] The key characteristics of the model include:[42]

      • informing counties and agencies about evidence-based practices and soliciting and providing incentives to implement them;
      • partnering with developers of evidence-based practices to provide training and consultation;
      • concrete and tailored assistance from CiMH to develop and implement evidence-based practice plans and overcome organizational barriers;
      • forming peer-to-peer networks to ease the exchange of information regarding implementation challenges and solutions; and
      • developing a sustainability infrastructure within the state’s public mental health system.
  • Community Logic Model[43]
    The Community Logic Model is recommended by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as a key conceptual tool for planning how to address substance abuse problems within a community. It is a tool for linking the substance abuse problem to the underlying factors and then used as a guide to the identification and selection of evidence-based programs, practices, and policies for substance abuse prevention.
  • Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy (JJSES)[44]
    Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy assists juvenile justice stakeholders in implementing strategies to prevent delinquency that are grounded in evidence-based practices. It consists of four stages of implementation: readiness, initiation, behavioral change, and refinement. JJSES is committed to employing evidence-based practices with fidelity at every stage of the juvenile justice process.[45]

B.  Technical Assistance

Given the importance of effective implementation and how involved and time-consuming the process can be, some agencies use technical assistance for various points in the process or throughout the process of implementation. See the Experts section for some providers of different kinds of assistance.

5.) Ensuring Evidence-Based Practices Work with Diverse Youth

In order to effectively treat youth of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, it is important that the evidence-based practice selected is effective with the population of youth served. Concerns have been voiced regarding the lack of cultural diversity in many evidence-based practice clinical trial populations. Some believe this means evidence-based practices have limited utility for communities of color.[47] On the more promising side, several large studies suggest that many commonly used EBPs have comparable and even better results with some youth of color.[48]

More research and testing of evidence-based practices with youth of color is needed; however, improved cultural responsiveness in staff and programs will also help ensure evidence-based practices work with diverse youth. See below for more information.

A.  Cultural Responsiveness

Nationally, youth are less likely to access mental and behavioral health services and more likely to drop out of treatment than their White counterparts.[49] This is believed to be due at least in part to a lack of cultural responsiveness. While there is disagreement over how to address this issue, several ideas are below:

      • Cultural Adaptations
        Cultural adaptations take an evidence-based practice and adapt it for language, racial and ethnic group, and/or geographic setting.[50]

          • Proponents of cultural adaptations recommend them as a bridge between the evidence-based practice and the need for cultural competence, so that the treatment aligns with the youth’s worldview. [51]
          • Others contend that there is little evidence that culture-specific adaptations of evidence-based practices are effective, but that evidence-based treatments are culturally responsive if they can be individualized.[52]
          • Only a few models have adapted existing treatments. Below are some examples:
              • Ecological Validity Model (EVM) – composed of eight dimensions to consider when making an adaptation: language, person, metaphors, content, concepts, goals, methods, and context. EVM has been used to adapt a number of behavioral theory evidence-based practices for youth of color – such as cognitive behavioral therapy for Puerto Rican and Haitian adolescents, and was found to be effective.[53]
              • The Psychotherapy Adaptation and Modification Framework is a three-tiered format that breaks down broad domains into therapeutic “principles” that are supported by “rationales.”[54]
              • Both of the above models emphasize community engagement and the importance of the treatment being acceptable to the community.[55]
          • Adapting an evidence-based practice to make it culturally applicable can be costly and time-intensive, and cultural adaptations for broad groups (such as “Hispanics”) also need to be responsive to local culture.[56]
      • Cultural Enhancement Model (CEM)
        This model focuses on improved engagement at the community, therapist, and client level by making enhancements that align services with the needs and cultural perspective of the client. The enhancements include actions such as therapist matching, using appropriate language, incorporating culturally relevant metaphors, and improving therapist knowledge of appropriate therapeutic strategies. It does not make changes to core components of the program.[57]
      • The CEM model involves five phases: identifying a community advisory team and agreeing on a work plan, information gathering, development, implementation, and evaluation.
      • Cultural Matching
        Studies have found increased effectiveness when practitioners are culturally matched with their clients or their client’s caregivers.

          • In a study of substance-abusing adolescents being treated with Functional Family Therapy, Latino adolescents who were ethnically matched with their therapists demonstrated greater decreases in substance abuse than those with Anglo therapists.[58]
          • In a study of youth outcomes with Multi-systemic Therapy, youth whose therapists ethnically matched their caregivers showed greater decreases in symptoms, dropped out less often from the program, and met their treatment goals more often.[59]

B.  Benefits of Cultural Responsiveness

The number of studies of the impact of cultural responsiveness on evidence-based practices is still very limited and the studies done negating the impact may be inaccurate, due to the complexity involved in achieving cultural competency. Therefore, it is difficult to rule out the benefits of cultural responsiveness based on the current state of the research.[60]

Nevertheless, there are many benefits to addressing cultural responsiveness with evidence-based practices, including the following:

      • Increasing Engagement
        Research has found that attending to cultural factors — such as parents’ level of comfort with the clinical setting, their perceptions of racism within the treatment center, and their own beliefs about mental health care and community stigmas against receiving such care — increases parent and youth engagement and improves youth outcomes.[61]
      • Ethical Responsibility
        Both the American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association require that clinicians be competent to treat clients from diverse backgrounds with the best practices for their client’s population group. Both have also stressed the importance of cultural competency in practitioners’ ethical guidelines.[62]
      • Preferences of People of Color
        Studies have found that people of color prefer culturally modified evidence-based practices, even where the research found no significant differences in outcomes between programs that were or were not modified. Clients’ preferences should be valued where it does not harm the outcome.[63]

+ Strategies: Administrative

6.) Promising Policies and Practices

A number of policies and practices have shown positive results for youth and communities but may not have sufficient scientific evidence to be labeled evidence-based. We discuss some of the more prominent reform trends below:

A.  Deincarceration

There is increasing evidence that recidivism is reduced and public safety is improved when youth are diverted from the justice system for minor offenses [see “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” below] and by treating more youth in the community through alternatives to secure detention and confinement.[64] Additionally, there is mounting evidence of the harms to youth and public safety by incarcerating youth. Recent research has found the following:

      • Several studies have found that treating youth in the community has positive results for the youth and reduces further juvenile justice system involvement.[65]
      • In a review of 29 studies, Petrosino and colleagues found that youth who were formally processed in the delinquency system had higher recidivism rates than youth who were diverted from the system, with the greatest crime reductions occurring when youth were diverted from the system and received services.[66]
      • A Florida study found that confining low-risk youth led to higher rearrest rates than placing low-risk youth on probation or diverting them and providing services.[67]
      • Incarceration has been found to increase the rate of antisocial activity and raise the level of offending for some youth.[68]
      • A recent study found that juvenile incarceration results in large decreases in the likelihood of high school completion and large increases in the likelihood of adult incarceration.[69]
      • Even youth who are not incarcerated can be harmed by going through the formal juvenile justice process and having a delinquency record. They can suffer the collateral consequences of challenges to re-enrolling in school, difficulty being accepted by colleges, barriers to employment, rejection by non-delinquent peers, and evictions from their homes.[70]

See the Community-Based Alternatives Resource Hub sections on Diversion, Alternatives to Secure Confinement,  and Diverting Youth Who Commit Status Offenses for further information on Reform Trends in these areas.

See below for specific examples of efforts to implement evidence-based policies and practices.

+ Strategies: Administrative

  • Alabama[71]
    The Alabama Department of Youth Services (DYS) set aside more than $1 million in 2009 to fund a competitive grant program for the purpose of encouraging Alabama courts to develop non-residential alternatives to incarceration tailored to local needs.

+ Strategies: Judicial

  • Pennsylvania[72]
    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a Rule reflecting the Pennsylvania law on dispositions: courts ordering out-of-home placements for youth must explain why they are placing the youth outside of the home, and why it is the least restrictive placement available.

Strategies: Legislative


    • Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA)
      In 1974, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA),[73] a federal-state collaboration to improve outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice systems across the country and enhance community safety. One of the core requirements of the federal JJDPA is the deinstitutionalization of status offenders (DSO). This provision seeks to ensure that youth believed to have committed status offenses (such as running away, truancy, and underage drinking) are not held in secure juvenile facilities, except under very limited circumstances,[74] or in adult facilities for any length of time.[75]


    • Illinois[76]
      Illinois law requires juvenile court judges to review additional factors before sentencing youth, with the goal of using incarceration only as a last resort. The court can only commit youth to the state Department of Juvenile Justice if it is the least restrictive alternative appropriate.
    • Mississippi[77]
      Mississippi passed legislation to set up an intensive probation supervision program which created community-based alternatives to imprisonment for youth throughout the state. The legislation created slots for 75 youth in each county to participate in the program.
    • Nebraska[78]
      The legislature ordered the transfer of $100,000 to assist the juvenile justice system in providing pre-filing and diversion programming to reduce school absenteeism and unnecessary juvenile justice system involvement.
    • Pennsylvania[79]
      In determining the disposition for a child, a judge is required to “impose the minimum amount of confinement that is consistent with the protection of the public and the rehabilitation needs of the child” and, if the court commits a child to a facility, must provide a statement of reasons as to why that was the least restrictive placement possible.

B.  Disrupting the School-To-Prison Pipeline

In the past three decades, schools have become a major source of referrals to the juvenile justice system. This phenomenon has come to be called the “school-to-prison pipeline,” or the “schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track.” Minor school disciplinary problems that used to be handled by school administrators are now frequently referred to law enforcement.[80]

One innovation to reverse this trend and keep youth from getting to the front door of the juvenile justice system is to implement a comprehensive school-wide evidence-based disciplinary plan. These plans consist of strategies and techniques to achieve the goals of developing students’ self-discipline, preventing and correcting misbehavior, and effectively responding to students with serious and chronic behavior problems.[81] A number of evidence-based and promising strategies have been developed to accomplish these goals.

+ Strategies: Administrative

  • This report from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges highlights the importance of effective data-collecting and sharing between schools, mental health professionals, law enforcement, and the juvenile justice system to further student success and reduce referrals to to the juvenile justice system. The report also focuses of what information should be collected and shared between schools and the justice system to promote School-Justice Partnerships.
  • Explore examples of administrative strategies that have been implemented around the country to implement school-wide disciplinary strategies.

+ Strategies: Legislative

Explore examples of administrative strategies that have been implemented around the country to implement school-wide disciplinary strategies.

C.  Systems of Care Model (SOC)[82]

This is a comprehensive model designed to meet the multiple needs of youth with severe emotional disturbance. Its key principles are:  involving the child and family in the planning and delivery of the service; and providing services that are coordinated, integrated, community-based, and culturally responsive.

Studies have found positive benefits from system coordination alone, including improved access to services and increased satisfaction with services by parents and children, as well as reduced hospitalizations and other restrictive care for youth. While clinical research has not shown the full SOC model to result in a significant reduction of symptoms over those in usual care, studies have found that, in addition to the benefits derived from system coordination, it results in improved family functioning, reduced school absenteeism and drop-out rates, and reduced use of restrictive placements.

7.) Rethinking Juvenile Justice

To achieve lasting reform, some argue that adopting evidence-based programs, policies, and practices alone is not enough; a fundamental reconsideration of the values and principles on which the juvenile justice system rests must also be undertaken.

What would that look like? In Reforming Juvenile Justice, the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science recommends (based on research into adolescent development) that “the core principles guiding the way that both less serious and more serious juvenile offenders are treated should flow from a developmental perspective.”[83]

    • The National Research Council recommends interventions that provide opportunities for an adolescent to develop successfully in a supportive social world. [84]
    • This includes model programs, as well as considering what might be impeding developmental processes. Over-reliance on institutionalization is an example of a practice that could impede positive adolescent development.[85]
    • Also recommended is more focus on mechanisms to promote positive development.[86]

The “Positive Youth Justice” model, described below, explores what the juvenile justice system could look like if it used existing research into adolescent development as its basis. While Positive Youth Justice is not yet an evidence-based policy, it applies decades of theoretical and empirical research on adolescent development to juvenile justice institutions, programs and services with the aim of achieving better youth outcomes. The result opens up a promising new frontier in evidence-based practices.

The Positive Youth Justice Framework

The Positive Youth Justice model — laid out in Positive Youth Justice: Framing Justice Interventions Using the Concepts of Positive Youth Development, a report by Jeffrey A. Butts, Gordon Bazemore, and Aundra Saa Meroe — is currently being tested and refined in several communities. Positive youth development is strength-oriented rather than deficit based; it builds on the resilience of youth and supports positive development by encouraging youth to develop useful skills and competencies and build stronger connections with pro-social peers, families, and communities.[87]

+ Strategies: Administrative

  • Sacramento, CA[88]
    In December, 2011, the Sierra Health Foundation launched a positive youth justice initiative. The main components are as follows:

      • The program is designed for dual-status youth who have experienced abuse, neglect, and/or trauma, have been formally involved in the child welfare system, and are currently juvenile justice system involved (often called “crossover youth”).
      • The initiative combines positive youth development with trauma-informed care.
      • This approach uses a “youth-as-resources” lens to view all young people as assets to their community to be supported and engaged through the participation of family, community members, faith leaders, and others.
      • It prioritizes local interventions that support the youth’s development regarding education, workforce, healthy relationships, and community/civic engagement.
  • Washington, D.C.
    In 2009, the Washington, D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) launched a new initiative to supervise youth in the least restrictive method consistent with public safety, coordinate the efforts of DYRS with community-based organizations providing services to justice-involved youth, and to build the efforts of the agency around the principles of positive youth development.[89]
  • Three core goals drive the agency’s work:[90]
      • helping court-involved youth develop the skills and relationships they need to succeed;
      • ensure that youth are living in a safe environment, properly supervised, and receiving the support they need to thrive; and
      • managing agency resources effectively and efficiently and taking a data-driven approach to improving agency performance.


[1]Evidence-Based/Informed,” Evidence Generation, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, accessed January 2, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mark W. Lipsey, et. al., “Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs” (Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, December 2010), 17-22, at The database for Lipsey’s meta-analysis of juvenile justice programs consisted of 548 studies from 1958 – 2002.

[4]Juvenile Justice System Improvement Project: Research Basis,” Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, accessed August 27, 2018.  

[5]Juvenile Justice System Improvement Project: Research Basis,” Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, accessed August 27, 2018.

[6] Lipsey, 32-34, at  Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs: A New Perspective on Evidence-Based Practices.

[7] Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University, “Juvenile Justice System Improvement Project,” accessed September 24, 2018.

[8] Lipsey, et. al., 32-34.

[9] National Institute of Justice,, “Juveniles: Delinquency Prevention,” accessed July 29, 2014,

[10] Patrick Tolan, et. al., “Mentoring Interventions to Affect Juvenile Delinquency and Associated Problems: a Systematic Review,” Campbell Systematic Reviews 16 (February 9, 2013), doi:10.4073/csr.2008.16, at; National Institute of Justice,, “Practice Profile: Mentoring,” accessed July 29, 2014,

[11] National Institute of Justice,, “Juveniles: Delinquency Prevention,” accessed July 29, 2014,

[12] National Institute of Justice,, “Practice Profile: Targeted Truancy Interventions,” accessed July 29, 2014

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. A meta-analysis by Maynard and colleagues of 16 studies found no significant differences based on the program type or setting. See Brandy R. Maynard, Katherine Tyson McCrea, Terri D. Pigott, and Michael S. Kelly, “Indicated Truancy Interventions: Effects on School Attendance among Chronic Truant Students” Campbell Systematic Reviews 10 (May 7, 2012), doi: 10.4073/csr.2012.10, at The meta-analysis by Klima and colleagues of 22 studies (2009) found three types of programs associated with improved attendance – alternative educational, behavioral, and school-based mentoring programs. See Tali Klima, Marna Miller, and Cory Nunlist, “Targeted Truancy and Dropout Programs in Middle and High School” (Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Document No. 09-06-2201, 2009); National Institute of Justice,, “Practice Profile: Targeted Truancy Interventions,” accessed July 29, 2014,

[16] Gina M. Vincent, Laura S. Guy, and Thomas Grisso, Risk Assessment in Juvenile Justice: A Guidebook for Implementation, (Chicago, IL: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Models for Change Initiative, November 2012): 37,, citing a definition developed by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice for Children and Adolescents, “Disseminating Evidence-Based Practice for Children and Adolescents: A Systems Approach to Enhancing Care” (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2008).

[17] Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) Helpdesk, “Objective Admissions,” accessed August 7, 2018.

[18] National Juvenile Justice Network, “Doing it Right: Risk Assessment in Juvenile Justice” (April 2013): 2,

[19] National Juvenile Justice Network, “Doing it Right,” 2.

[20] National Juvenile Justice Network, “Doing it Right,” 2.

[21] Frank Orlando, “Controlling the Front Gates: Effective Admissions Policies and Practices,” Pathways to Juvenile Detention Reform, 3 (Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, 1999).

[22] National Juvenile Justice Network, “Doing it Right,” 2-3.

[23] National Juvenile Justice Network, “Doing it Right,” 3.

[24] National Juvenile Justice Network, “Doing it Right,” 3-4.

[25] Only three of the risk assessment instruments examined demonstrated considerable capacity to accurately classify youth according to low, moderate, and high risk levels. Chris Baird, et. al., “A Comparison of Risk Assessment Instruments in Juvenile Justice” (National Council on Crime and Delinquency, August 2013), 9, 133, at .

[26] Baird, et. al., 133-4.

[27] Baird, et. al., 109.

[28] Baird, et. al., v, 134.

[29] Your Missouri Courts, “Missouri Juvenile Offender Classification System,” accessed April 23, 2014,

[30] New Jersey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, “New Jersey’s Statewide Risk Screening Tool (RST)” (2008); Jennifer LeBaron, “Report to the Administrative Office of the Courts Regarding the Development of a Detention Screening Tool and Its Potential Impact on Current Practice” (New Jersey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative State Screening Subcommittee, undated).

[31] Central and Eastern Oregon Juvenile Justice Consortium, “A Risk Assessment Guide for Community Custody Alternatives and Pre-Adjudicatory Detention Decisions” (January 2011), 6,

[32] Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, “Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy” (April 2012): 20, 8,

[33] Annie Balck, “Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: 2009-2011” (Washington, D.C.: The National Juvenile Justice Network, 2012), 7,

[34] WY Stat § 7-1-108 (2013); Department of Family Services, “Report to Joint Judiciary Interim Committee” (January 2012), 1-2.

[35]Court Operating Rule 28, April 8, 2011; Annie Balck, “Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: 2009-2011” (Washington, D.C.: The National Juvenile Justice Network, 2012), 48,

[36] “Resistance to the adoption of evidence-based practice and systems of care is well recognized in the literature on program implementation.” Mark W. Lipsey, et. al., Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs, 48.

[37] Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network accessed January 2, 2019.

[38] Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network, “Taking Action to Integrate EBPs in Your Work: Technology Transfer,” accessed January 2, 2019.

[39] Mark E. Feinberg, Damon Jones, Mark T. Greenberg, D. Wayne Osgood, and Daniel Bontempo, “Effects of the Communities that Care Model in Pennsylvania on Change in Adolescent Risk and Problem Behaviors,” Society for Prevention Research 11 (December 18, 2009): 163-171, 163.

[40] Communities that Care, “How it Works,” accessed June 5, 2014,

[41] Todd Sosna and Lynne Marsenich, “Community Development Team Model” (Sacramento, CA: California Institute for Mental Health, October, 2006): 7.

[42] Sosna and Marsenich, “Community Development Team Model,” 14.

[43] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, “Identifying and Selecting Evidence-Based Interventions” (January 2009), 5-12, accessed October 22, 2018.

[44] This is a partnership of three agencies – the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission, the Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers, and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, “Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy,” 1.

[45] Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, 4-7.

[46] This refers to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders (July 1, 1993) as developed by Dr. James C. Howell and John Wilson,

[47] Sarah Cusworth Walker, Eric Trupin, and Jacquelyn Hansen, “A Toolkit for Applying the Cultural Enhancement Model to Evidence-Based Practice” (Division of Public Behavioral Health & Justice Policy, University of Washington and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Models for Change Initiative, Nov. 22, 2013), 5; W. Haywood Burns Institute, “Non-Judicial Drivers into the Juvenile Justice System for Youth of Color” (2011): 9,

[48] John A. Morris, et. al., Turning Knowledge into Practice, 2nd ed. (revised), 28;  Jeanne Miranda, Guillermo Bernal, Anna Lau, Laura Kohn, Wei-Chin Hwang, and Teresa LaFromboise, “State of the Science on Psychosocial Interventions for Ethnic Minorities, “Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 1 (2005): 113–142,; Stanley J. Huey, Jr., and Antonio J. Polo, “Evidence-Based Psychosocial Treatments for Ethnic Minority Youth,” Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology  37(1) (Jan. 2008): 262-301,

[49] Walker, Trupin, and Hansen, 3.

[50] James Bell, “Non-Judicial Drivers into the Juvenile Justice System for Youth of Color” (W. Haywood Burns Institute, undated): 9,

[51] Walker, Trupin, and Hansen, 4; Bell, 9.

[52] John A. Morris, et. al., Turning Knowledge into Practice, 2nd ed., 28.

[53] Walker, Trupin, and Hansen, 5.

[54] Walker, Trupin, and Hansen, 5-6.

[55] Walker, Trupin, and Hansen, 7.

[56] Walker, Trupin, and Hansen, 8.

[57]Walker, Trupin, and Hansen, 11.

[58] Stephen Phillippi, Jr., et. al., “Evidence Based Practices for Juvenile Justice Reform in Louisiana,” 12, citing Flicker, S., Waldron, H., Turner, C., Brody, J., Hops, H., “Ethnic Matching and Treatment Outcome with Hispanic and Anglo Substance-Abusing Adolescents in Family Therapy,” Journal of Family Psychology: 439-447 (2008).

[59] Stephen Phillippi, Jr., et. al., “Evidence Based Practices for Juvenile Justice Reform in Louisiana,” 11-12, citing Halliday-Boykins, C., Schoenwald, S., & Letournea, E., “Caregiver-Therapist Ethnic Similarity Youth Outcomes from an Empirically Based Treatment,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: 808-818 (2005).

[60] Elizabeth Feldman, Eric Trupin, Sarah Walker, and Jacquelyn Hansen, “Evidence-Based Practices with Latino Youth: A Literature Review” (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Division of Public Behavioral Health and Justice Policy and Models for Change, November 25, 2013):, 23-4,

[61] Elizabeth Feldman, et. al., 22.

[62] Feldman, et. al., 23.

[63] One study found that over 80 percent of African-American women stated a preference for a culturally modified evidence-based practice. Feldman, et. al., “Evidence-Based Practices with Latino Youth,” 24.

[64] John A. Morris, Stephen Day, and Sonja K. Schoenwald, Turning Knowledge Into Practice, 2nd ed. (revised), (Boston, MA: The Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc., Winter 2010), 50,; Stephen A. Small, Arthur J. Reynolds, Cailin O’Connor, and Siobhan M. Cooney, “What Works, Wisconsin: What Science Tells Us about Cost-Effective Programs for Juvenile Delinquency Prevention” (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Human Ecology, June 2005): 27,

[65] Models for Change Juvenile Diversion Workgroup, “Juvenile Diversion Guidebook” (Chicago, IL: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, March 2011), 11-12,

[66] Anthony Petrosino, Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino, and Sarah Guckenburg, “Formal System Processing of Juveniles: Effects on Delinquency,” Campbell Systematic Reviews (January 29, 2010), 38. Available at Note that one finding in this report required further study: three studies with participants who had committed first-time offenses reported positive results for system processing. Also see National Juvenile Justice Network, “Emerging Findings and Policy Implications from the Pathways to Desistance Study,” (Washington, DC: 2012),

[67] Elizabeth Siegle, Nastassia Walsh, Josh Weber, Core Principles for Reducing Recidivism and Improving Other Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System (New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2014),; citing Kristin Parsons Early, Gregory A. Hand, and Julia L. Blankenship, Validity and Reliability of the Florida PACT Risk and Needs Assessment Instrument: A Three-Phase Evaluation (FL: Justice Research Center, 2012), Table 9.

[68] National Juvenile Justice Network, “Emerging Findings and Policy Implications from the Pathways to Desistance Study” (Washington, DC: 2012). Available at; T. Loughran, et al., “Estimating a Dose-Response Relationship between Length of Stay and Future Recidivism in Serious Juvenile Offenders,” Criminology, 47 (2009).

[69] Anna Aizer & Joseph J. Doyle, Jr., “Juvenile Incarceration, Human Capital and Future Crime: Evidence from Randomly- Assigned Judges,” National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper No. 19102 (June 2013), at; Brad Plumer, “Throwing Children in Prison Turns Out to be a Really Bad Idea,” Washington Post WONKBLOG (June 15, 2013), at

[70] Ashley Nellis, “Addressing the Collateral Consequences of Convictions for Young Offenders,” The Champion (July/August 2011).

[71] Annie Balck, Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: 2009 – 2011 (Washington, DC: National Juvenile Justice Network, July 2012), 5

[72] Balck, 5, citing Rules 512, 1240, 1242, and 1512, adopted April 29, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.

[73] Pub. L. No. 93-415, 42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq. (1974). For more information on the JJDPA, visit the website of Act 4 Juvenile Justice at, last accessed January 23, 2014.

[74] Youth charged with status offenses can be held in juvenile facilities for up to twenty-four hours prior to and following an initial court appearance and can be detained in a juvenile facility if they have violated a valid court order. Pub. L. No. 93-415, 42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq. (1974); U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Statistical Briefing Book: JJDPA Core Requirements,” accessed May 12, 2014,

[75] Coalition for Juvenile Justice, “JJDPA Core Requirements,” accessed May 4, 2014, Pub. L. No. 93-415, 42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq. (1974).

[76] Balck, 8, citing H.B. 83/Public Act 97-362, signed into law August, 15, 2011; effective January 1, 2012.

[77] Balck, 8, citing H.B. 420/ Chp. 459, signed into law March 20, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.

[78] Balck, 8, citing L.B. 463, signed into law and effective May 11, 2011.

[79] 42 Pa.C.S. § 6352 (a), (c),

[80] Advancement Project, “Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track” (March 2005),

[81] George Bear, “Discipline: Effective School Practices,” in Helping Children at Home and School III: Handouts for Families and Educators, ed. Andrea S. Canter, Leslie Z. Paige, Steven Shaw (Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists, 2010), accessed August 27, 2018.

[82] Morris, et. al., Turning Knowledge into Practice, 2nd ed. (revised), 54-5.

[83] National Research Council, Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach  (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013): 177.

[84] Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach, 179.

[85] Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach, 179.

[86] Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach, 180.

[87] Jeffrey A. Butts, Gordon Bazemore, and Aundra Saa Meroe, “Positive Youth Justice: Framing Justice Interventions Using the Concepts of Positive Youth Development” (Washington, DC: Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2010): 9

[88] “Sierra Health Foundation’s PYJ Initiative,” Research & Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Positive Youth Justice, accessed May 10, 2014,; Chet P. Hewitt and Matt Cervantes, “Sierra Health Foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative” (Sacramento, CA: April 2012): 2-4,

[89] “Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services,” Research & Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Positive Youth Justice, accessed May 10, 2014,

[90] The District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, “DYRS Approach,” accessed May 10, 2014