In Michigan, 17-year-olds are not allowed to buy lottery tickets, get a tattoo, rent a car or hotel room or drop out of school. They can’t vote, serve on a jury or sign a legal contract either, presumably because they don’t possess the requisite maturity to make adult-level decisions. This distinction, however, is tossed out the window if a 17-year-old breaks the law. Suddenly, they are adults, facing devastating repercussions that can come with an adult conviction.
We live in a world of best practices. Some call themselves evidence-based best practices (EBP), some are simply promising practices based on evidence from somewhere, and a few are practices grounded in evidence-based research (EBR).
Adolphus Graves, the chief probation officer of Fulton County Juvenile Court in Atlanta, was driven to transform his juvenile justice system by the mistakes he made as a young probation officer.
“I was a little wayward and misguided as a probation officer,” he said. “Knowing my times as a probation officer, and how many things I did horribly, or how many children that I irresponsibly, or sometimes just ignorantly, subjected to detention because I had no other tools. … The recurring theme consistently has been the lack of knowledge, of understanding what’s going on, the depth of what’s going on in a child’s life.”
Combined with revolutionary advances in brain science and adolescent development research, the Chicago Crime Lab studies help to clarify the dimensions of a new and more targeted approach for combating delinquency and improving outcomes for high-risk youth generally. If only our nation’s juvenile justice systems took proper notice.
More than half of Americans support closing youth prisons and redirecting the savings to community-based programs, data that gives momentum to efforts to close facilities around the country, advocates say.
Raising the age to be charged as an adult and restorative justice are crucial in slowing the school-to-prison pipeline, New York panelists said.
“We need to show students that by showing up, we have something to offer them,” said educator David Levine. “Students need to see their school as a place of value, not as a place they’re stuck in.”
Over the past three decades, adolescent development scholars, criminologists and mental health practitioners have achieved a breakthrough – or rather two breakthroughs. They have developed two different approaches to the care and supervision of troubled and delinquent children that consistently work better and cost less than correctional confinement and other commonplace services. One approach, which involves intensive and highly-regimented family therapy delivered to young people in their own homes, has been rigorously tested in scientific evaluations and repeatedly yielded substantial and statistically significant reductions in recidivism and treatment/confinement costs. The second – known as wraparound – targets youth with serious emotional disturbances, and it assembles a team of caring adults to devise an appropriate mix of community-based services in lieu of placing the child into a residential facility. Numerous studies show that wraparound, too, improves behavioral health and reduces involvement in the justice system – and does so at a fraction of the cost of confinement or residential treatment.
Over the last few decades politicians have advocated for stricter sentencing guidelines and for trying more juveniles as adults. These decisions have been largely driven by public fear and a desire by elected officials to be seen as “tough on crime.”
They do not rely on evidence-based research, one of the least used methods for determining juvenile justice policy. Some of these attitudes seem to be changing though. Over the last few years, research has generated data that are beginning to be acknowledged by policy makers. One such study is Pathways to Desistance, sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in partnership with many other groups interested in effective juvenile justice practices.