Data points to supplement the messages and narrative tools.
A communications tool on how to shift mindsets and mental models on common terms associated with the justice system.
We recognize that public perception about the juvenile justice system is heavily influenced by the media and people’s unique and direct experiences with the system.
Through our research, we have a better understanding of the public’s perception of the juvenile justice system. The data also revealed the pivots or levers for change that will aid in raising awareness and changing mindsets and behaviors on this topic. This information has been foundational in developing strong messages to advance youth justice. Below is an examination of key topics that show how to scaffold from public perception to pivot to message.
Pivot Language To
Juvenile Justice System
The juvenile justice system is broken. It doesn't work because it doesn't keep kids from getting into further trouble and doesn't do much to rehabilitate them.
While nearly all young people test limits, some of them wind up getting into trouble with the law. We need better ways to hold them accountable and put them on a path to a brighter future. We should do what works and what’s good for youth.
Data consistently show that the current juvenile justice system is repeatedly failing young people, families and the communities where they live.
A true youth justice system ensures all young people — regardless of their race, ethnicity or income — are held accountable for their actions and still have an opportunity for a bright future.
The juvenile justice system should focus on rehabilitation to keep youth from reoffending and/or getting permanently caught in the system with repeat offenses.
Not all young people who get into the system have serious challenges or pose a danger. Many are testing limits in ways we would expect for their stage of development. They need consequences that do not involve the court system, which deprives them of normal adolescent experiences, positive relationships and fulfilling opportunities.
Rehabilitation is the goal of youth justice — which means applying appropriate consequences to typical youth behavior and providing real opportunities for youth to learn from their actions and continue to grow in a positive direction.
The youth justice system should recognize that taking risks and having trouble controlling impulses are normal aspects of development in adolescence.
The public recognizes that young people should not be treated as adults and don’t want harsh punishment for youth. But they don’t believe that young people will change without a correction or consequence.
Young people who get in trouble with the law face consequences that too often lead to more problems rather than opportunities to learn a lesson and get a fresh start.
We should embrace the chance to teach young people responsibility for their actions and support them with mentorship, opportunities and guidance that will steer them toward a positive path.
Accountability and responsibility are seen as the goals for youth in trouble with the law.
Young people have the most potential to learn from their mistakes. Allowing them the opportunity to make amends is the best step toward healing and growth.
Everyone who cares about youth should embrace the chance to teach young people accountability. This means allowing the young person to acknowledge their mistakes and make amends and encouraging them to make choices that support their future.
The public doesn’t know much about the details of juvenile probation. They assume it’s better than sending kids away and may believe that youth are getting constructive engagement on probation. They don’t know about how it can funnel youth further into the system. But when they hear about that, they oppose it.
Most youth who come into the juvenile justice system are put on probation. Staying in the community is a benefit, but often the restrictions are more surveillance than support. This often leads young people further into trouble rather than providing the guidance they need.
For most young people who get into trouble with the law and are put on probation, it hurts more than it helps. For too many youth, probation is a trap that drives them further into the justice system.
If there is no danger to themselves or to their communities, young people should be diverted from probation to community-based alternatives that provide guidance, education and support.
A series of hot-button questions that may be asked about youth justice and suggested responses based on content from the tool kit.
1. Are youth receiving consequences for their actions when they are diverted from the courts to community-based responses?
We expect young people to take responsibility for their mistakes. Diversion from courts to community-based responses provides a much faster, more individualized response to a young person’s actions than the court system can. And when applied effectively and equitably, it can significantly reduce ineffective punishment and deeper system involvement, which are proven to hurt rather than help young people.
2. How does diversion from courts to community-based responses and restorative justice make us safer?
It is natural for young people to test boundaries. When they break the law, they can be held accountable by their families, schools and communities and be connected to appropriate community resources, such as counselors, mentors and athletic coaches who support them in learning from their mistakes.
According to data, youth who participated in diversion programs were less likely to reoffend than their peers who were not diverted, as seen in a study in Michigan.
Restorative justice also reduces the chance that youth will get into trouble again because they take responsibility for their actions and gain empathy for people they have harmed. A 2021 Department of Justice literature review concluded that “overall, findings indicate that youths who participate in restorative justice programs are less likely to reoffend, compared with youths who are processed traditionally in the juvenile justice system.”
3. What about victims? Don’t they deserve to see the youth who have committed these crimes punished?
When incidents happen and someone is harmed, often the best solutions for healing and rehabilitation are achieved when those who were involved — including the person who caused the harm — are involved in designing the resolution. Restorative justice provides an effective way for young people and everyone who is affected by their actions to create solutions that meet everyone’s needs, address the causes of what happened, promote healing and set the young person on a positive path. Studies consistently show that those who have been harmed by a young person’s offense report higher satisfaction from restorative justice than from court processes (see here).
4. Could restorative justice and probation be used with youth with serious offenses?
We all want to live in a world where young people can realize their potential, even when they make serious mistakes. Acting out in violent ways as youth does not mean a person will become a violent adult. When youth commit serious offenses, we need to respond in ways that help them take responsibility while getting on the right path and addressing harm that’s been caused.
Restorative justice interventions have been effective for a range of offenses, including serious crimes, such as assault and robbery. This approach can be appropriate when the effects on the harmed party are clear, as is the need for the responsible person to take steps to make amends and ensure that they don’t continue to inflict harm.
Probation should be only for youth who pose significant risks for serious offending, and it should promote personal growth and positive behavior change. Probation — with an emphasis on mentoring relationships — can be an effective intervention for young people who pose significant risks of reoffending.
5. Isn’t probation good for kids?
No, probation is not good for young people who do not have serious or repeat arrest histories because it can pull them more deeply into the system and separate them from connections to work and school. If there is no safety risk to themselves or to their community, young people should be diverted from probation to community-based alternatives that provide guidance, education and support.
Even for youth who need probation, the current youth probation system too often demands rigid compliance that does not set young people up to succeed. Youth probation is set up so that even small infractions — such as missing curfews or court appointments — can lead to further punishment or even confinement. For too many youth, probation is a trap that drives them further into the justice system. This focus on compliance has left other important youth development needs – such as mentoring, workforce development and connection to opportunities ― unattended and under-resourced.
6. People are feeling less safe, right? What about the spike in crime we are hearing about every day?
Based on research conducted by the Harris Poll, the perception in 2022 is that crime, including youth crime, has increased overall and that public safety has decreased. Six out of 10 people believe public safety has been the same in their communities, but believe crime is on the rise elsewhere.
[If applicable customize for your own jurisdiction: In XX community crime, particularly youth crime, has decreased.]
It is important to note that the research showed that while people perceive that crime has increased, many continue to support alternative responses that hold young people accountable by keeping them connected to guidance and support in the community.
Communities should respond with the interventions that are shown to work for young people: support, opportunities and connections to mentors and the community. Greater surveillance and incarceration have failed in the past, and we should invest in what works.
7. What are we supposed to do about kids carrying and shooting guns in our streets?
The people and communities most affected by violence and trauma must be at the table with public safety officials for the development and implementation of solutions. Any effort to improve youth and family well-being — whether focused on education, employment, housing or otherwise — cannot fully succeed if people are unable to go about their daily activities free of violence and harm.
For everyone’s safety, we do not want young people carrying guns, but we must also understand that young people are still growing and maturing through their mid-20s and can use poor judgment. Taking risks and testing boundaries are common teen behavior, and many of these young people feel threatened or unsafe.
Only 10% of the public believes young people should be confined for carrying guns. Forty-nine percent support probation for youth who have but did not use a gun. This approach should set realistic guidelines that youth can meet, in collaboration with families and other caring adults. Probation should be time-limited and use positive opportunities to motivate youth to meet goals.
8. It seems that the juvenile justice system is no place for our young people. Why are states enacting Raise the Age policies?
Raise the Age increases the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age or older. Research conducted by Harris Poll determined that, overall, the general public believes that youth under 18 should stay out of the adult criminal justice system. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this too, saying the justice system must treat youth differently than adults and recognize young people’s developmental stage and capacity for change. Age-appropriate responses and treatment reduce their chances of future involvement in the system and help them become successful adults. Providing youth with an opportunity for accountability and rehabilitation will help us stop the pipeline to prison. While our juvenile justice system remains far from perfect, the promise of a more rehabilitative system for young people cannot be realized if youth are treated like adults.
Tips for interacting with the media.
Three key elements can be helpful in interacting with the media on youth justice: sound bites, stories and data.
When prepping for a print, radio or TV interview, review the seven tips below to ensure that the speaker is in control of the message and the conversation.
You Don’t Have to Answer Every Question.
No one can put words in your mouth but you. If the question helps you, go for it. If the premise of the question is too negative or challenging, simply frame your answer to the question you want to answer. You are in control of what you say.
Nothing is “Off the Record.”
There are no rules that govern this or ensure safety. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want to hear or read on the news.
Remember Who You’re Really Talking To (Hint: It's not the reporter).
When you’re talking, remember the people who will ultimately hear or read what you say: your organization's staff and supporters, elected officials, community leaders and others. The media is a conduit to getting out the message to those you wish to reach.
Know What You Want to Say First.
Before talking to a reporter, think about the most important message people need to hear. Make it simple. If you try to say too much, you’ll water down what’s most important.
Repeat and Use “Flagging.”
Once you know what the most important thing is to say, look for opportunities to repeat it over and over so there’s no chance someone misses it. “Flagging” is using phrases that get people’s attention, like “The most important thing is…” or “What people really need to know is…”
Use “Bridging” to Control the Conversation.
You don’t have to answer every question. Also, you don’t have to accept a question framed against you. Instead, use “bridging,” so you can talk about what you want to talk about. “Bridging” is using phrases that help you go to another place, like “What’s really important is…” or “The research shows that…”
Don’t Talk to Fill the Silence.
This is especially true for TV or radio interviews. When you’re done making your point, stop. It’s normal to be nervous but chattering on and on can get you in trouble.
It’s Okay to Say “I Don’t Know.”
Never make something up because you don’t know the answer. Reporters don’t want to publish information that isn’t true. It’s better to say you’ll find out what the answer is and get back to them or tell them who would know the answer.
The best way to avoid a crisis is to be well prepared. Any situation can turn negative or escalate if it’s not handled appropriately. That’s why it’s important to prepare and rehearse in advance — before a situation emerges.
The best defense is a good offense. It’s critical that you do not wait until something happens to communicate the progress and challenges of reform to your stakeholders and to the media. You should engage in year-round efforts that can support successful communications.
Build a base of support among validators: By making your broadest group of stakeholders aware of your agency’s direction, you are giving them information they might need if they are asked by a reporter to comment on an incident at your agency. They would be more likely to see a critical incident as an aberration as opposed to a deterrent to a more rehabilitative approach.
Build your credibility with reporters: It’s critical to cultivate relationships with members of the press so that they are familiar with you, consider you a credible, responsive source of information and understand the basics of your local justice efforts and what they have achieved.
Know your data and keep current data accessible: Critical incidents might happen outside of normal business hours. Be prepared to respond wherever you are.
Establish the chain of command for response: While it’s not possible to predict the exact circumstances of a crisis, organizations should establish protocols for potential crises, including identifying the chain of command for notification, identifying and preparing potential spokespeople and planning for keeping key stakeholders informed ahead of the press. Depending on the severity of an issue, it may be appropriate for a senior leader to be the public face of the organization during an incident. Identifying criteria for this in advance will streamline decision making in the midst of a crisis.
PHASE I – Prepare: What protocols need to be in place before a problem emerges? Lay the groundwork for effectively managing and responding to an expected or unexpected crisis ahead of time.
PHASE II – Prevent: Once a potential problem emerges, what steps can be taken to minimize or contain it?
PHASE III – Alert: Who needs to know early on that a situation is brewing? Alert the appropriate contacts among your staff, legal, chain of command, spokespeople and key partners so everyone with a role in implementing the crisis response plan can do so quickly and effectively.PHASE IV – Respond: What steps need to be taken to manage the situation?
PHASE V – Improve: What lessons should be learned from the experience? Document and communicate key lessons in order to improve crisis response plans and protocols for future situations.