Strategies for State Leaders to Support Youth in the Justice System
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.
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.”