What follows are brief definitions of key terms or additional information about phrases used in the juvenile justice field. While not exhaustive, these are intended to provide additional information for users of the site. 

Adjudication is the juvenile court process that determines if the youth committed the act for which he or she is charged. The term "adjudicated" is similar to "convicted" and indicates that the court concluded that the youth did commit a crime.

Aggression Replacement Therapy (ART)
Aggression Replacement Therapy (ART) is a treatment program targeted at youth with a history of serious aggression and anti-social behavior. It teaches youth techniques to control impulsiveness and anger, and to behave in a more pro-social fashion. Studies have found ART to be effective in reducing recidivism and problem behavior, and increasing social skills.[1]

Asian Pacific Islander
“Asian Pacific Islander” refers to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander Americans.

Community Service
When mandated by the court, “community service” generally refers to work performed by a youth as a way of repairing the harm his or her actions may have caused the community. In some community service programs, youth earn money to pay restitution to victims.

This stage of the delinquency process refers to locking up youth who have been adjudicated delinquent in a secure juvenile facility.

Crisis Intervention Team
Crisis Intervention Teams are teams composed of police officers specially trained to respond to crisis calls involving individuals that may have mental health issues. Although the teams were developed for adults, the model has been expanded to youth.

Cultural and Linguistic Competence
In the juvenile justice system, “cultural competence” refers to the ability of juvenile justice system professionals — such as police, probation and correctional staff, attorneys, judges, and program providers – “to understand and respect values, attitudes, beliefs, and mores that differ across cultures and to respond appropriately to these differences” in interacting with youth and their families, and in planning and implementing programs for them.”[2]

“Linguistic competence” refers to the ability to convey information to youth and their families in a way that is easily understood by diverse audiences, such as those with limited English proficiency, or who have low literacy skills.

Decision Points in the Juvenile Justice System
Examples of key decision points in juvenile justice include:

    • Arrest
    • Juvenile court intake
    • Pretrial detention
    • Disposition or sentencing
    • Probation
    • Placement in a juvenile corrections assessment center
    • Community reentry

Formally speaking, a youth is found delinquent when a juvenile court determines that the youth committed the act for which he or she is charged. It is similar to the conviction of an adult in a criminal court.

Detained and Detention
Detained youth are youth that the juvenile court has determined need to be removed from their home and generally confined in a secure juvenile facility known as a “detention” facility prior to their adjudication. (In some jurisdictions like New York City, youth are still considered detained even when they are in non-secure detention.) Youth may also be detained when a non-secure placement facility (e.g., shelter care or a treatment program) ejects them for allegedly failing to adjust in placement, or when a youth is accused of violating terms of probation.

Disparate Treatment
When some youth are treated less favorably than others for similar conduct because of factors unrelated to their behavior — such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or religion — this is referred to as “disparate treatment.”

Disparity simply means the state of being unequal. In the context of juvenile justice, disparity is often used to describe unequal rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system. For example, if 50 in 1,000 Black youth are admitted to secure detention in a jurisdiction and 10 in 1,000 White youth are admitted, Black youth are five times (50/10=5) as likely as White youth to be securely detained. There is a disparity in the rate at which Black youth are detained.

Disproportionality refers to an unequal ratio or relation between the compositions of two populations. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) applies the term specifically to the comparison between (a) the rate at which youth in a specific racial or ethnic group appear at one decision point in the juvenile justice system versus the rate at which they appear at a prior decision point and (b) the rate at which non-Hispanic White youth appear at the same decision points.

Disproportionate Minority Confinement (DMC)
The inequitable overrepresentation of youth of color in juvenile detention, youth correctional facilities, or adult jails and prisons. The term refers specifically to situations where the proportion of youth of color who are detained or confined exceeds the proportion that group represents in the general population. The term has generally been replaced by “Disproportionate Minority Contact,” defined below.

Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC)[3]
The inequitable representation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system. The term includes overrepresentation of youth of color at particular points in the system (arrest, referral to court, detention, etc.) as compared to their representation at the previous decision point, as well as the disparate and harsher treatment administered to youth of color at key decision points (i.e., length of disposition, whether to transfer a youth to adult criminal court, etc.). Through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the federal government provides incentives for states to investigate and reduce DMC in the juvenile justice system.

It should be noted, however, that some experts argue that regional and national demographic shifts make it more appropriate to refer to the phenomenon as “racial and ethnic disparities,” without reference to “minorities.” Accordingly, we use “racial and ethnic fairness” or “racial and ethnic disparities,” rather than “disproportionate minority contact,” where feasible.

A system of procedures or programs that direct youth away from formal juvenile justice system processing entirely, as well as programs that divert youth away from secure detention in a juvenile justice facility.

Evidence-Based Treatment Programs
Evidence-based treatment programs are standardized treatment programs that have been demonstrated to improve outcomes for youth across multiple research groups. They are programs that have been studied in both research settings and in real world environments and been found in both settings to produce the intended outcome. Examples include (but are not limited to) Aggression Replacement Therapy, Functional Family Therapy, and Multi-systemic Therapy.

NOTE: the term “evidence-based” is often used broadly; attention to the actual research base behind specific evidence-based practice is advisable prior to adoption. Practices that may have been shown to be generally effective for white youth may not be as effective for youth of color and may need to be adapted for language, racial and ethnic group, and/or geographic setting.

Evening Reporting Centers
These are facilities in the community where youth report on a daily basis for a specified period of time. The staff closely supervises the youth and may provide a number of services, such as counseling, vocational training, educational programs, and substance abuse treatment.

Formally Processed
Formal system processing for juveniles refers to the practice of processing youths through the traditional juvenile justice system (see “Decision Points in the Juvenile Justice System,” above) without diverting them from the system at any point.

Functional Family Therapy (FFT)
Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a family-focused evidence-based treatment program for delinquent youth at risk for placement in a juvenile facility. FFT focuses on improving family communication and supportiveness, while decreasing negative behavior patterns.[4]

“Hispanic” generally refers to people of Spanish-speaking origin or ancestry and “Latino” refers to people of Latin American extraction or descent. Consistent with the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Council of La Raza, we use the terms interchangeably on the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub.

“Latino” generally refers to people of Latin American extraction or descent, and “Hispanic” refers to people of Spanish-speaking origin or ancestry. Consistent with the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Council of La Raza, we use the terms interchangeably on the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST)
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an intensive family- and community-based treatment program for violent youth or youth who are arrested repeatedly. Therapists work with the family to address all the environmental systems affecting the youth --their homes and families, schools and teachers, neighborhoods and friends.[5]

Native American
“Native American” as used in this website refers to American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

Out-of-Home Placement
Young people may be moved out of their own home and placed in the care of a relative or substitute, such as a foster home or a group home, under a court order. These “out-of home placements” differ from placement in a secure or locked facility.

The term overrepresentation relates directly to disproportionality. When one population is represented in numbers that are disproportionately high, that population is overrepresented. For example, if Black youth represent 10% of the overall youth population in a jurisdiction but 30% of youth admitted to detention in that jurisdiction, Black youth are overrepresented in detention admissions. The percentage of Black youth in detention is disproportionately high, resulting in the overrepresentation of Black youth in detention. Likewise, if Black youth represent 30% of the overall youth population but only 10% of youth admitted to detention, Black youth are underrepresented in detention admissions.

Peer Mediation
School-based peer mediation teaches students alternative strategies to help resolve conflicts among their peers. Some programs teach all students in the school problem-solving strategies for mediating disputes. Others train a group of students who act as the school’s conflict managers.

If a juvenile case is petitioned, this means that an intake officer (generally part of the juvenile probation department) is formally stating the allegations against a youth and requesting that the juvenile court determine if the youth should be adjudicated delinquent.

Prior to the adjudication phase of the juvenile justice process. See “adjudicated” above.

Probation Violation
When the court orders that a youth be placed on probation, there are often conditions attached to the probation order to which the youth must adhere. (Examples include meeting with the probation officer, complying with curfews, staying off of drugs, and attending school.) If a youth fails to meet any of these conditions, it is considered a violation and sanctions can range from counseling to confinement.

Referrals to Juvenile Court
When someone makes a statement alleging that a youth has committed an offense that would bring them under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, this is called a “referral.” After the statement is made, the case is referred to the intake division of the juvenile court to determine if it should be further handled by the court system. Depending on the jurisdiction, referrals can be made by a number of sources, including police, schools, other juvenile courts, and parents.

Relative Rate Index
The Relative Rate Index (RRI) is the method that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) uses to measure the over- or under-representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system, in comparison to white youth.

This is a two-step method. In the first step, the rate for a particular racial or ethnic group of youth at a particular decision point in the juvenile justice system is calculated by taking the number of youth at that point and dividing it by (a) the number of youth in that racial/ethnic group in the general population (if the decision point is arrest); or (b) dividing it by the number of youth in that racial/ethnic group at the previous decision point (for any decision point besides arrest). For more info, see this explanation. Second, the rate for the group is divided by the rate for the white population of youth. If the value is over 1, then it indicates that the group is overrepresented compared to white youth. If the value is below 1, then it indicates that the group is underrepresented compared to white youth. For example, if a particular group had an RRI of 1.3 when it came to arrests, that would mean that its members were being arrested 30 percent more often than white youth.

For more detailed assistance with constructing an RRI matrix to investigate racial-ethnic disparities, see the National Disproportionate Minority Contact Databook.[6]

Residential Placement
On the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub, we use the term “residential placement” to mean a court’s placement of a young person outside of the home -- either while the youth is awaiting trial (see “detention” above) or after a court adjudicates them delinquent and commits them to a state department of juvenile corrections. The facility may be publicly or privately operated, and may have a secure, prison-like setting or a more open plan.

When youth in trouble with the law cause victims to suffer financial losses, they are frequently ordered by the court to pay a sum of money to the victim—this is called restitution. It can be difficult for youth to pay restitution, because they are too young to work, lack the skills to get work, or can’t get a job because of their arrest record; or because they have been incarcerated for their offense. Youth are sometimes able to earn money for restitution by performing community service.

Restorative Justice
Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm people cause by their behavior and changing their thinking to understand how what they did affected those they harmed. Unlike the adversarial court process, both the youth and those they harmed take an active role in the process, such as through dialogue between a youth and the person he or she harmed (sometimes their families are included). Youth are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions by apologizing, returning stolen money, community service, or other actions; they are often provided help to avoid further misdeeds.

See definition for “waived” below.

“Waived” means a youth’s case has been transferred from juvenile court to adult court for prosecution, where they are tried as if they were an adult. Waiver, which is permitted in most states, is generally reserved for youth of a certain age who have committed particular offenses. Depending on the state, the judge or the prosecutor may send a youth to adult court after making a determination; in some states, statutory provisions may automatically send youth who meet certain criteria to adult court.   “Waiver” is also known as “transfer” or “certification.”


[1] “OJJDP Model Programs Guide: Aggression Replacement Training (ART),” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), accessed March 5, 2013; Kathy Skowyra and Joseph J. Cocozza, Blueprint for Change: A Comprehensive Model for the Identification and Treatment of Youth with Mental Health Needs in Contact with the Juvenile Justice System (Delmar, NY: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, 2007), 39,; Steve Aos, et al., “Return on Investment: Evidence-Based Options to Improve Statewide Outcomes,Document No. 12-04-1201 (Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, April 2012), at

[2] Curricula Enhancement Module Series, “Definitions of Cultural Competence,” National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, accessed January 6, 2014 at

[3] Definition from Juvenile Law Center, “Commonly Used Terms,” accessed January 22, 2014,

[4] “Functional Family Therapy,” Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development, accessed March 4, 2013,; Skowyra and Cocozza, Blueprint for Change, 39.

[5] “What is Multisystemic Therapy?” Multisystemic Therapy, accessed March 4, 2013,; Skowyra and Cocozza, Blueprint for Change, 39.

[6] See C. Puzzanchera, and S. Hockenberry, National Disproportionate Minority Contact Databook, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, at The databook was developed and is maintained by the National Center for Juvenile Justice.

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