Tool Kit Helps Juvenile Justice Experts Talk Reform

Posted July 18, 2022, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Three young men of color, wearing bookbags, stand against blue lockers

A new 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.

Read the Tool Kit

Strate­gies for Youth Jus­tice Reform

The tool kit con­tains plain, con­cise lan­guage to explain three key top­ics relat­ed to youth jus­tice reform. These are:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

Explore a guide for help­ing pub­lic agen­cies advance juve­nile jus­tice reforms

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