Ten Core Principles for Youth Probation

Posted February 6, 2024
An adolescent male of color is seen speaking thoughtfully with an adult counselor.

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.”

Read APPA’s call to action

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:

  1. Indi­vid­u­al­ize probation.
  2. Pro­mote equity.
  3. Align prac­tice with research.
  4. Min­i­mize con­di­tions of probation.
  5. Min­i­mize confinement.
  6. Look to encour­age success.
  7. Be a bridge to opportunity.
  8. Be a coach, teacher, men­tor and advocate. 
  9. Aim for progress, not perfection.
  10. Hold pro­ba­tion account­able for mean­ing­ful results.

Get more details on each principle

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.”

Read more on strate­gies for trans­form­ing youth probation

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