Southern Lawmakers Learn What Works in Juvenile Justice Reform

Posted August 7, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Lawmakers and playing basketball with young people during a tour of Greenbriar Children’s Center in Savannah, Georgia

Lawmakers playing basketball with young people during a tour of a Work Readiness Enrichment Program implementation site in Savannah, Georgia.

Young peo­ple in Flori­da appre­hend­ed by police for minor law­break­ing have alter­na­tives to arrest under a statewide pre-arrest diver­sion pro­gram. The state holds young peo­ple account­able through civ­il cita­tions, which address some low-lev­el offens­es out­side of the jus­tice sys­tem. Law­mak­ers from eight south­ern states learned more about this and oth­er promis­ing prac­tices in juve­nile jus­tice dur­ing a recent non­par­ti­san, region­al gath­er­ing led by the Nation­al Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures (NCSL) and spon­sored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Law­mak­ers and their staff came togeth­er with a com­mon goal: to learn from oth­er leg­is­la­tors, prac­ti­tion­ers, com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions and nation­al experts about effec­tive efforts to reduce juve­nile incar­cer­a­tion and, as with the Flori­da diver­sion ini­tia­tive, pre­vent more young peo­ple from enter­ing the jus­tice sys­tem in the first place.

Gath­er­ing with leg­is­la­tors from across the coun­try to hear from sub­ject-mat­ter experts and to dis­cuss poli­cies with one anoth­er nev­er fails to be pro­duc­tive,” says State Sen. Whit­ney West­er­field of Ken­tucky, who was par­tic­i­pat­ing in his third annu­al juve­nile jus­tice sum­mit for state law­mak­ers. Each time we do, our minds are pro­voked to con­sid­er how we can improve our own states by bor­row­ing and build­ing on ideas with which oth­ers have experimented.”

In addi­tion to Florida’s civ­il cita­tion pro­gram, the recent sum­mit featured:

  • Savan­nah, Geor­gia, ini­tia­tives includ­ing The Front Porch, a mul­ti­a­gency resource cen­ter that aims to divert young peo­ple before they enter the sys­tem, and the Work Readi­ness Enrich­ment Pro­gram (WREP), which helps local youth con­nect to work and avoid con­fine­ment; and
  • efforts to trans­form juve­nile pro­ba­tion from var­i­ous juris­dic­tions across the coun­try, includ­ing Pierce Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton. These ini­tia­tives have helped improve out­comes for youth on pro­ba­tion by lever­ag­ing knowl­edge of ado­les­cent behav­ior and using inter­ven­tions that con­sis­tent­ly reduce delin­quen­cy, includ­ing new and con­struc­tive ties with local fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ty organizations.

The meet­ing, held in Savan­nah in June 2019, enabled law­mak­ers to meet with young peo­ple dur­ing a tour of Green­bri­ar Children’s Cen­ter, a WREP imple­men­ta­tion site. One ses­sion was ded­i­cat­ed to the recent­ly reau­tho­rized Juve­nile Jus­tice and Delin­quen­cy Pre­ven­tion Act, which made leg­is­la­tors aware of how changes in the fed­er­al law might affect their work.

It can be dif­fi­cult for leg­is­la­tors to cham­pi­on poli­cies and prac­tices that seem exper­i­men­tal or unknown,” says Liane Rozzell, a senior pol­i­cy asso­ciate at Casey. Meet­ings like this are crit­i­cal for leg­is­la­tors, because they edu­cate them­selves about what’s actu­al­ly already work­ing — they learn from one anoth­er, the fac­ul­ty and the site visits.”

Learn more about juve­nile jus­tice reform

State Lead­ers Study Vir­ginia Juve­nile Jus­tice Transformation

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