Probation plays a pivotal role in the juvenile justice system. More young people who enter the nation’s juvenile justice system wind up on probation than any other outcome. Every year, nearly half a million youth are given some form of probation, and more than half of them are youth never found delinquent in court or who commit status offenses ― conduct that would not be a crime if it were committed by an adult, such as skipping school or possessing alcohol.
Many common practices in probation are problematic or counterproductive. While juvenile probation practices vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, even officer to officer, the core element of the probation experience involves (1) a judge who imposes a list (often a long one) of rules and requirements that the young person must follow and (2) a probation officer who then keeps tabs on the youth to monitor compliance. When youth on probation disobey these rules — by failing a drug test, breaking curfew or missing appointments — they may be found in violation of probation and punished accordingly, up to and including incarceration.
Evidence shows that juvenile probation doesn’t work to reverse delinquent behavior. At its best, probation offers court-involved youth who would otherwise be confined the chance to remain in the community and participate in constructive and therapeutic activities. But despite the dedication and admirable intentions of probation professionals, probation often pulls young people deeper into the system without offering the support and guidance that would put them on the right path and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
As the most common disposition, probation plays a large role in perpetuating the vast and continuing overrepresentation of African-American, Latino and other youth of color in juvenile justice. In 2014, the most current year for which data is available, 55 percent of all probation dispositions involved youth of color — far higher than their share of the total youth population (44 percent).3 Even more worrisome, 68 percent of young people held in residential custody in 2015 for a technical violation — which usually involves breaking probation rules rather than being charged with a new offense — were youth of color.
Surveillance-oriented probation lags behind knowledge of youth development. The developmental arc of the human brain shows why this heavy emphasis on surveillance and rule following does not succeed. The brain does not fully mature until age 25, and lawbreaking and other risky behaviors are commonplace during adolescence. Most youth grow out of lawbreaking without any intervention from the justice system.
Given research on adolescent behavior and brain development and evidence about interventions that consistently reduce delinquency, the knowledge exists now to get juvenile probation right.
This brief presents the research case for significantly expanding the use of diversion in the juvenile justice system. Learn how arresting young people and processing their cases in juvenile court increases their likelihood of subsequent arrests, school struggles and employment challenges.
The document shares data on how juvenile confinement causes serious harm to youth, fails to prevent future offending and exacerbates racial and ethnic disparities. Read how confinement runs counter to the lessons of adolescent brain science.
Steve Bishop, a senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is leading efforts to transform juvenile probation. He recently answered questions about racial injustice and juvenile probation.
Nate Balis, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, talked about juvenile justice reform during a podcast produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Ten recommendations offer timely guidance to probation leaders who are adjusting their probation practices in light of COVID-19. Learn how probabion systems can better support young people during this challenging time.
Casey joins organizations such as the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, a longtime provider of technical assistance to JDAI sites, in promoting four important steps that juvenile justice agencies can take to help to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Offering incentives beats traditional supervision in encouraging positive behavior change among youth on probation, according to a new study funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
A new webinar explores prosecutor-led efforts to reform the juvenile justice system by implementing measures that are less adversarial and less punitive. Prosecutors as Leaders of Reform features three prosecutors from JDAI® jurisdictions who are using the power of their offices to advance rehabilitation, fairness, equity and accountability.
A new webinar explores how mental health and juvenile justice systems serve youth who need help managing their behavior with programs relevant to their cultural backgrounds.