Juvenile Justice

Ensuring that young people exposed to the legal system can realize their potential, even when they make mistakes and violate the law in serious ways.

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Our Work in Juvenile Justice

For young people to thrive, we need to respond more effectively when they do harm and make mistakes. This means moving away from a culture of surveillance, punishment and confinement and toward more developmentally appropriate responses — including options that keep some kids away from the justice system altogether. We contribute to youth well-being via:

Spearheading a national movement to reform detention — a crucial early phase of the juvenile court process — by reducing overreliance on temporary confinement for youth awaiting their court dates.

Begun as a pilot project in five jurisdictions in the 1990s, the Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) reform model is now being implemented in more than 250 U.S. counties.

Participating JDAI sites have reduced their daily detention populations by 43% since joining the initiative while maintaining or improving public safety.

In 2009, the New York Times published an editorial lauding JDAI’s “astonishing” results and recommending that the model “deserve[s] to be replicated nationwide.”

Promoting reforms to reduce incarceration and other out-of-home placements for delinquent youth.

A ground-breaking study, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Reliance on Juvenile Incarceration, shows that America’s overreliance on youth incarceration is dangerous, ineffective, obsolete, wasteful and unnecessary, while providing no net benefit to public safety. The Foundation updated those findings four years later in Maltreatment of Youth in U.S. Juvenile Corrections Facilities.

We have expanded JDAI to focus on the “deep end” of the juvenile justice system — reducing long-term placements into correctional institutions and other facilities. Casey’s Juvenile Justice Strategies Group is piloting efforts in six local JDAI sites, as well as Georgia, to devise and implement reforms aimed at reducing the number of children removed from home in the delinquency court process.

Over the past decade, the Foundation has undertaken several intensive projects to help states and localities analyze and reorient their juvenile justice policies, leading to significant shifts away from juvenile incarceration in Alabama, New York City, Washington, D.C., and other jurisdictions.

Probation is court-ordered supervision of youth in the community that can last from months to years. It is the most common experience young people have within juvenile justice systems and places restrictions on what young people can do, who they can see and where they can go. Probation imposes rules — including curfew, school attendance and drug-testing mandates — on youth. Breaking these rules can result in further restrictions, return to court and even incarceration.

Diversion, like community- and school-centered prevention strategies, hold youth accountable for their behavior without resorting to legal sanctions. All young people need guidance, access to opportunities and a support network of positive adults and peers to help them mature into productive adults. Diversion and prevention allow youth with risk of legal system involvement to avoid lasting consequences and stigma that can disrupt their futures.

Advancing a key set of principles related to juvenile justice reforms.

Believe in a future where all young people — no matter their race, ethnicity, gender or neighborhood — can realize their potential, even when they make mistakes and violate the law in serious and violent ways.

Expand the Use of Diversion and Prevention: Keep most youth out of the juvenile justice system through community-led diversion, restorative justice and other strategies aimed at preventing system involvement for youth who get in trouble at school or in their communities.

Transform Probation: As the disposition most often imposed on young people who enter our nation’s juvenile justice systems, taking action to get probation right presents an enormous opportunity for improving the entire youth justice system.

Promote Community-based Support, Connections and Opportunities: Support efforts aimed at reducing the reach of the formal system and shifting funds toward community organizations that support young people.

Stand for the well-being of youth involved with the legal system. Young people are most likely to thrive at home or in settings in their own communities with stable connections to positive adults and opportunities.

Encourage authentic partnership with affected young people and their families and communities so the future of youth justice is shaped by those with real-life legal system experience.

Fund trailblazing efforts that invest in the wisdom, power and creativity of young people, families and communities to work toward a new, community-defined vision of youth justice, such as community-driven efforts in Albuquerque and Houston.

Safely and significantly reduce all forms of out-of-home placement in the justice system, especially for youth of color.

Heed decades of evidence that the use of detention centers, youth prisons and other residential settings to respond to delinquency undermine the life trajectories of young people, makes communities less safe, wastes scarce public resources and separates young people from what they need to grow into responsible adults.

Use strategies that are explicit about race to counterbalance generations of structural racism and overrepresentation of Black, Latino and Indigenous youth in our legal system.

Stay humble. Never think the work is done or that we have it all figured out. Our assumptions and plans may change as we partner with youth, families and others who bring different skills, networks and approaches to juvenile justice.

Use data to closely examine how decisions are made throughout the system to improve the trajectory for all young people, especially the most overrepresented populations and those facing the steepest systemic barriers to a positive adulthood.

Elevate the standard of care for young people experiencing youth corrections today, including helping young people heal when they have been exposed to traumatizing violence.

Current Strategies

Diversion and Prevention

A multiracial group of young people chat, lending each other support. The smile as a young Black man leads the discussion.

Diversion and prevention allow youth with risk of legal system involvement to avoid lasting consequences and stigma that can disrupt their futures. Diversion, like community- and school-centered prevention strategies, hold youth accountable for their behavior without resorting to legal sanctions.

Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI)

Ourwork initiative jdai

JDAI is a network of juvenile justice practitioners and stakeholders across the country working to build a more effective and equitable youth justice system. Studies show that youth who spend time in juvenile detention experience far more negative outcomes. The importance of juvenile detention alternatives cannot be overstated.

Probation Transformation

A young Black man speaks with a Black man in a supportive environment.

Evidence shows surveillance- and compliance-oriented probation doesn’t promote rehabilitation. Probation transformation involves focused interventions that promote personal growth and long-term success for young people at significant risk of serious offenses.

Reducing Youth Incarceration

Ourwork initiatives reducingincarceration

Jurisdictions can employ several strategies to safely and significantly reduce the use of youth incarceration — especially for youth of color — as they work toward ending the youth prison model.

Related Resources

Experiencing Probation

This report shares insights from young people and families who have experienced youth probation. Get their take on what's working — and what isn't.

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