Ten Core Principles for Youth Probation
The American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) issued a call to action for juvenile justice agencies nationwide to adopt a set of core probation principles that help young people desist from delinquent behavior and achieve long-term success. An Annie E. Casey Foundation grantee, APPA is a community supervision professional association with more than 30,000 members. It joins a growing number of organizations calling for more effective approaches to juvenile probation — such as individualized case plans and incentives — that motivate positive youth behavior.
Traditional juvenile probation emphasizes strict compliance with rigorous court conditions and harsh sanctions for violating them. It contradicts research on adolescent development and evidence about interventions that promote youth success and reduce delinquency.
“Probation departments are a powerful resource for supporting young people and improving their odds of success,” says Veronica Cunningham, APPA’s executive director and CEO. “We want to work with probation professionals, youth and community stakeholders to create a systemwide approach that allows probation officers to maximize their effectiveness.”
Youth Probation Core Principles
The APPA holds that juvenile probation should be limited to young people who are engaged in chronic, serious or violent behavior; who are at high risk of reoffending; and whose continued presence in the community does not pose an imminent threat to public safety. In these cases, 10 principles should guide probation departments:
- Individualize probation.
- Promote equity.
- Align practice with research.
- Minimize conditions of probation.
- Minimize confinement.
- Look to encourage success.
- Be a bridge to opportunity.
- Be a coach, teacher, mentor and advocate.
- Aim for progress, not perfection.
- Hold probation accountable for meaningful results.
Brian Lovins, APPA president from 2021 to 2023, supports the call to action to “continue to work to keep youth out of the system and move them out quickly and safely through deflection and diversion programming where possible.” He concludes, “For those youth who need more support, probation should be designed to center the youth, their families and support networks to create a space in which everyone is working together to help the youth on a path forward.”
Leadership in Action
The APPA issued its first position statement about working with young people in the justice system in 2013. It affirmed that young people are different from adults and need developmentally appropriate services. In 2020, it dedicated an issue of its quarterly journal to youth probation to convey“effective approaches that are attuned to the unique needs of youth and champion practices that move young people out of the justice system.” At around the same time, APPA increased its professional development offerings for youth probation leaders and frontline staff, culminating in 2023’s full-day Juvenile Justice Forum at APPA’s annual training institute.
The APPA’s 2024 statement places particular emphasis on accountability, noting that the return to court of a young person on probation, either for a rules violation or a new offense, represents a failure not only for the youth but also for the entire juvenile justice system.
“APPA’s vision statement is another example of the organization’s leadership in juvenile justice,” says Opal West, senior associate in the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. “APPA members, through adoption and implementation of these principles, have a key role to play in transforming probation’s problematic and counterproductive practices into more effective support and guidance for young people.”