Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice

A recent report from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), titled, "Bringing Youth Home: A National Movement to Increase Public Safety, Rehabilitate Youth and Save Money," documented the extraordinary number of states and jurisdictions (at least 24) that are closing or downsizing their youth correctional facilities, due to budget cuts, legislation, lawsuits, and pressure from reformers. (Download the report for tips on ways to downsize wisely.)

This is a good thing, because it means taxpayers can save money or avoid the high cost of incarceration, and reallocate those monies to community-based programs that are more effective at helping young people turn their lives around.

Right on the heels of the NJJN report comes a new report from Jeffrey A. Butts and Douglas N. Evans from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Research and Evaluation Center in New York, titled, Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice. In it, they ask:

  • Do these reforms represent a permanent shift in policy and practice, or are they merely a temporary reaction to tight budgets and low rates of violent crime?
  • Will policymakers maintain the reforms if and when crime rises and budgets rebound?

To answer those questions, they reviewed -- I'm quoting from the press release -- "the most prominent juvenile correctional reform models from the past 40 years, and they conclude that some models of reform are likely to be more sustainable than others."

Here's the three reform models they identified (I'm quoting again):

    1. Resolution Models: Reforms are accomplished and maintained with managerial action and state leadership. Examples: The “Missouri Model” and statewide reforms in Massachusetts and Utah during the 1970s and 1980s.
    2. Reinvestment Models: Reforms are accomplished and maintained  using financial incentives to reduce the demand of local jurisdictions for state-operated confinement institutions. Examples: RECLAIM Ohio, Redeploy Illinois, and recent reforms in Texas.
    3. Realignment Models: Reforms are achieved and sustained by reorganizing juvenile justice systems, reducing or eliminating state-level confinement and replacing it with local services and placement. Examples: Wayne County, Michigan and the California realignment policy enacted with Senate Bill 81 in 2007.

Their conclusions?

  • The "'realignment' approach now being implemented in California and the realignment reforms established in Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan since 2000" is most likely to be sustainable over time.
  • Moreover, reforms based on financial incentives (costs avoided by closing down costly facilities) are probably the most easily reversed.

Download Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice.


The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.


Study Looks at Strategies for Juvenile Justice Reform

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.