Tool Kit Helps Juvenile Justice Experts Talk Reform
A new digital tool kit leverages public perception research to help juvenile justice practitioners and other experts become better communicators to advance reforms. Produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Fenton Communications, the resource, Talking About Youth Probation, Diversion and Restorative Justice, stems from surveys conducted by the Harris Poll in 2021 and 2022.
Inside the Messaging Tool Kit
The tool kit includes:
- core messages and narratives to enhance public understanding of diversion from courts, restorative justice and youth probation;
- the research findings that informed the message insights and recommendations;
- youth justice facts and figures to supplement the narratives and message recommendations;
- a series of media engagement tips; and
- relevant blog posts, infographics and videos from the Casey Foundation.
Strategies for Youth Justice Reform
The tool kit contains plain, concise language to explain three key topics related to youth justice reform. These are:
- Youth Probation. Probation, as it largely exists today, pulls young people more deeply into the justice system and breaks their connections to work and school. A better approach — one that emphasizes mentoring relationships and positive community-based opportunities — can be an effective intervention for young people who are at serious risk of reoffending.
- Diversion. Diversion away from courts — and into community-based alternatives — can be an effective option for youth who have committed lower-level or first-time offenses. This strategy is faster and allow responses to be fined tuned to better address a young person’s actions. It also reduces ineffective punishment, which is proven to hurt — rather than help — young people.
- Restorative Justice. This evidence-based approach promotes empathy and a sense of responsibility by giving young people opportunities to examine the root causes of their actions and work on solutions with the people they’ve harmed.
What Americans Think About Youth Justice
To develop the tool kit, the Casey Foundation commissioned Harris Poll public opinion research in March 2021. The goal? To learn more about Americans’ perceptions of the juvenile justice system and their awareness of key reform topics. In 2022, Casey commissioned updated Harris Poll research to determine public attitudes on perceived crime trends and youth gun possession.
This effort revealed the following general public perceptions:
- Crime had increased and public safety had worsened in the United States in the early part of 2022.
- Young people needed to be supported by community resources (this perception held for an overwhelming majority of people polled ― including respondents who felt that youth crime had risen).
- The current juvenile justice system is not working well, there is little rehabilitation taking place and it is a pipeline for youth to enter the criminal justice system.
Most Americans also identified race as an influential factor in perpetuating juvenile justice system inequities. About 9 in every 10 respondents agreed that Black, Native American and Latino youth often received harsher treatments and sentences when compared to their white peers who had committed similar crimes. Americans also reported feeling frustrated about the lack of change to the juvenile justice system.
Americans also largely agreed that youth who commit crimes need to be held accountable for their actions. At the same time, 86% of respondents said that youth should be connected to positive community-based alternatives, such as sports, counselors and mentorship. They also reported believing that youth would outgrow problematic behaviors if afforded constructive options and set on a path toward rehabilitation.
“Despite the perception of rising crime, the data show that Americans support approaches that prioritize rehabilitation and accountability,” according to Nate Balis, director of the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. Balis agrees: “Community-based alternatives are the right way to keep communities safe without trapping young people in a flawed system.”