This tool kit — produced by the National Council of Juvenile and
Family Court Judges — equips judges with practical strategies and
recommendations designed to overhaul and improve America’s approach to
This advice spans five areas of juvenile probation practice: 1)
individualized case planning; 2) opportunity-based probation with
youth-oriented incentives; 3) conditions of probation orders; 4)
alternatives to confinement in response to technical violations of
probation; and 4) appropriate dispositions for youth involved in
For each area, the tool kit identifies research-based practice
recommendations, racial and ethnic equity considerations, data needs,
implementation challenges, and steps that judges can take — on and off
the bench — to probation transformation.
The juvenile justice’s field’s emerging consensus for transforming
probation is informed by the excessive number of youth formally
involved in the system as well as the pervasive racial and ethnic
disparities that persist in jurisdictions across the country.
Designed to align probation with emerging research on adolescent
behavior and brain development, this vision has two key components: 1)
expanded diversion; and 2) probation practice designed to achieve
long-term behavior change, primarily for youth with serious arrest
histories and complex needs.
The conventional model of juvenile probation, with its emphasis on
surveillance and rule-compliance, is inconsistent with the latest
research on adolescent development and brain science. Specifically,
research shows that better outcomes can be achieved when probation
Connect youth on probation with credible messengers and mentors;
Partner with families.
Engage young people on probation in positive youth development activities tailored to their interests and talents.
Utilize incentives and rewards, rather than the threat of sanctions.
Expect and plan for occasional behavioral setbacks by youth on probation.
Keep probation terms to a few months rather than a year or two years.
Judges have a pivotal and powerful role to play in leading probation reform efforts
Findings & Stats
A Diversion Deficit
Over the past 25 years, juvenile arrests have dropped by nearly 60%, but the odds that a case will be handled informally have barely changed.
Positivity Over Punishment
To maximize positive behavior change, probation should offer youth four times as many positive incentives as threats of punishment, according to researchers.
No Cookie Cutter Approaches
Probation officers can’t rely on a formulaic process and standardized tools to quickly assemble case plans. Instead, they should spend time with a young person and their family and enlist their help in building an individualized case plan.
Statements & Quotations
When a judge calls a meeting, people come.
Probation resources are too valuable to waste on young people who would be better off diverted.
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