Opinion: Legal System Should Take a Back Seat to Families, Schools and Communities

Posted April 17, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A Black mother and son share a loving embrace. Both smile contentedly.

Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group, is urg­ing America’s youth jus­tice sys­tems to focus on the evi­dence. His view­point, shared in an essay in the Juve­nile Jus­tice Infor­ma­tion Exchange, calls for rethink­ing the nation’s default response to most delin­quent con­duct. Instead of rely­ing on the jus­tice sys­tem to arrest, pros­e­cute and pun­ish young peo­ple, Balis main­tains that more famil­iar forces — fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties and schools — can fill this role.

Read the essay

The data for chang­ing course is com­pelling, writes Balis. The most rig­or­ous and con­clu­sive study to date sug­gests that young peo­ple and their com­mu­ni­ties fare worse after jus­tice sys­tem involvement.

Val­i­dat­ing decades of pri­or research, the study — led by Eliz­a­beth Cauff­man of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at Irvine — notes that youth who were for­mal­ly processed dur­ing ado­les­cence were more like­ly to be re-arrest­ed, more like­ly to be incar­cer­at­ed and report­ed more violence.”

In his essay, Balis calls for sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand­ing the use of juve­nile diver­sion before youth are arrest­ed or before their cas­es are referred to court. At least 60% of juve­nile cas­es should be divert­ed and nev­er reach juve­nile court, accord­ing to Balis.

Explore the research on youth diversion

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