Opinion: Juvenile Justice Systems Need to Transform to Have Lasting Impact on Youth Outcomes

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

By Shay Bilchik and Josh Weber

For juvenile court judges, correctional facility administrators and community supervision agency leaders throughout the country, the progress juvenile justice systems have made in recent years is clear. Nationwide, juvenile arrest rates are at historic lows, and incarceration rates have plummeted by more than half.

Despite these tremendous strides, data and experience indicates that juvenile justice systems are still not operating as effectively as possible. In the face of stubbornly high recidivism rates and enduring racial disparities, many jurisdictions are making only minimal tweaks to improve their juvenile justice systems.

Confronting these persistent challenges will require innovative thinking and bold solutions that both strengthen public safety and lead to better futures for youth who come in contact with the system. To push the field in this direction, The Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG) and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University partnered last fall to interview nearly 50 researchers, national experts and system leaders from across the juvenile justice continuum to solicit their ideas about how juvenile justice systems could significantly improve outcomes for youth.

What emerged from these discussions was “Transforming Juvenile Justice Systems to Improve Public Safety and Youth Outcomes,” a new publication that presents six strategies — grounded in the latest research and developmental science — designed to fundamentally alter how juvenile justice systems operate.

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