Tool Kit Helps Juvenile Justice Experts Talk Reform

Updated on November 14, 2022 and originally posted July 18, 2022 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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

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.

Read the PDF version

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.”

Down­load the new dig­i­tal tool kit, Talk­ing About Youth Pro­ba­tion, Diver­sion and Restora­tive Justice

Explore a guide for help­ing pub­lic agen­cies advance juve­nile jus­tice reforms

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