Strategies for State Leaders to Support Youth in the Justice System

Posted May 3, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A confident, well-dressed, young Black man prepares to speak in front of a committee.

State Strate­gies to Address the Needs of Jus­tice-Involved Youth Impact­ed by Col­lat­er­al Con­se­quences, a recent report from the Nation­al Gov­er­nors Asso­ci­a­tion, explores the many adverse effects on youth who become involved with the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. Fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, it offers state lead­ers pol­i­cy options for mit­i­gat­ing these effects, which can hin­der young people’s abil­i­ty to make suc­cess­ful tran­si­tions to adulthood.

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Juve­nile Jus­tice Pol­i­cy Ideas for Gov­er­nors and State Agencies

State Strate­gies high­lights five key pol­i­cy strate­gies that gov­er­nors’ offices and state agency lead­ers should con­sid­er for reduc­ing the harm to youth involved with the jus­tice system:

  • Strength­en­ing inter­a­gency part­ner­ships and stake­hold­er col­lab­o­ra­tion to help build aware­ness of the chal­lenges fac­ing youth involved with the jus­tice sys­tem and estab­lish con­sen­sus for action­able policies.
  • Intro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion that pro­pos­es sys­temic reform of the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem or that cre­ates pro­grams address­ing a par­tic­u­lar type of col­lat­er­al harm — for exam­ple, remov­ing finan­cial penal­ties or pro­vid­ing edu­ca­tion­al opportunities.
  • Part­ner­ing with local non­prof­it ser­vice providers and pro­vid­ing them with insti­tu­tion­al and finan­cial sup­port to ensure youth have access to nec­es­sary services.
  • Cre­at­ing a task force or oth­er group to con­vene inter­est­ed stake­hold­ers, gain a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the unique col­lat­er­al con­se­quences fac­ing youth in their state and build con­sen­sus toward action­able solutions.
  • Sup­port­ing com­mu­ni­ty-based, trau­ma-informed meth­ods for engag­ing youth, include fund­ing local ser­vices with state or fed­er­al grants, train­ing ser­vice providers and con­duct­ing analy­ses to iden­ti­fy com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices gaps to improve the con­tin­u­um of care.

Imme­di­ate and Long-Term Effects of Jus­tice Sys­tem Involvement

Based on dis­cus­sions with nation­al, state and local youth jus­tice experts, State Strate­gies describes the imme­di­ate and long-term harm of any involve­ment with the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. Imme­di­ate neg­a­tive effects can include:

  • arrest and pro­ba­tion, which can lead to fines, fees and oth­er finan­cial penal­ties. These can be sig­nif­i­cant bur­dens, par­tic­u­lar­ly for fam­i­lies with low incomes;
  • deten­tion, which can lead to loss of pub­lic ben­e­fits for fam­i­lies of youth who are detained or placed in secure facilities;
  • adju­di­ca­tion (hav­ing to appear before a judge), which can lead to sus­pen­sion of driver’s licens­es for youth who are adju­di­cat­ed in juve­nile court; and
  • res­i­den­tial placement.

Among the long-term effects:

  • bar­ri­ers to obtain­ing employ­ment, enrolling in col­lege or enter­ing voca­tion­al train­ing programs;
  • dif­fi­cul­ties find­ing or retain­ing hous­ing, includ­ing fed­er­al hous­ing assis­tance; and
  • the com­pound­ing harm­ful effects of hav­ing a juve­nile court record.

More­over, trau­ma expe­ri­enced by young peo­ple dur­ing their sys­tem involve­ment can have long-term psy­cho­log­i­cal, social and bio­log­i­cal effects, includ­ing increased risks of future delin­quen­cy, poor edu­ca­tion­al out­comes, sub­stance abuse and chron­ic disease.

Research shows that even brief con­tact with the jus­tice sys­tem can cause long-term harm to young peo­ple,” says Tanya Wash­ing­ton, a senior asso­ciate in the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. Gov­er­nors and state agen­cies can reduce that harm by keep­ing more young peo­ple away from the for­mal jus­tice sys­tem and chang­ing how the sys­tem sup­ports young peo­ple who are referred to juve­nile courts.”

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