Juvenile Justice Reform Center

About Juvenile Justice Reform

The juvenile court was originally founded on the principle of applying social-service interventions in a legal forum. During the 1990s the get tough on crime policies prevailed.  Since 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court has limited practices such as the execution of offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed and life without parole for crimes committed by juveniles.Advances in research on behavioral and neuroscience need to guide juvenile justice reform. Juvenile Justice GPS (Geography, Policy, Practice, & Statistics) is a project to develop an online repository of juvenile justice policy, practices, and statistics. The topic areas listed below provide recent research and reports to assist with these reform efforts.




 Better response to mental health needs


Appropriate interventions for youth charged with status offenses, like truancy, running away and curfew violations

Improved coordinated systems of care for dual status youth, or youth who came into contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems


Trends in State Courts 2014 

Trends 2014 cover
Trends in State Courts 2014
focuses on what courts can do, and are doing, to serve the needs of society’s most vulnerable groups:  juveniles and the elderly.

Technical Assistance Funds for Developing and Implementing Juvenile Justice Reforms

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC), in partnership with five national partner organizations, has funding from the State Justice Institute to provide technical assistance (TA) support to state and local courts wishing to undertake or expand juvenile justice reform efforts. The Juvenile Justice Reform and State Courts Initiative (JJRSCI) project is intended to complement, build upon, and enhance juvenile justice reform efforts identified in the strategic plans developed by states participating in the regional juvenile justice reform summits funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the NCSC.

The five other national partner organizations involved in the JJRSCI project are the Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC), and the RFK National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (RFK).

To request technical assistance, please complete the Technical Assistance Request Form and email it to kfarley@ncsc.org.

The Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators adopted Resolution 6 at the 2015 Annual meeting commending the Models for Change initiative and urging their members to review and consider the goals, strategies, and resources developed under the initiative as they undertake juvenile justice system reforms.

A Guide to Juvenile Justice Reform

Dual Status Youth
Youth who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, known as dual status youth, present unique and complex issues that need to be addressed.

Guidebook for Juvenile Justice & Child Welfare System Coordination and Integration: A Framework for Improved Outcomes, 3rd Edition Dec 13, 2013, Janet K. Wiig and John A. Tuell, with Jessica K. Heldman and the supporting publication, Dual Status Youth - Technical Assistance Workbook (2013).

Learn more.

Evidence Based Programs
Analysis of programs that are effective in addressing juvenile justice issues can assist with choosing appropriate and cost effective interventions. Improvements in the measurement, analysis, collection, reporting, and use of data are integral to improving outcomes for youth.

Evidence Based Practices on Juvenile Justice Resource Hub. This section of the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub provides an overview of key issues and reform trends relating to evidence-based practices and links to information on each one, as well as the most recent research, cutting-edge reforms, model policies, links to experts, and toolkits to take action.

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Girls in the System
Most research, treatment and interventions focus on boys yet the numbers of girls involved in the justice system are growing.

The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline:  The Girls’ Story (2015). Georgetown Center on Law and Poverty. Girls in the juvenile justice system have an extraordinarily high rate of sexual abuse. Rates of girls and girls of color in particular are rising in the juvenile justice system while juvenile crime overall is falling.

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Juvenile Defense
Efforts to ensure due process in juvenile court need to focus on improved access to counsel and quality of representation.

National Juvenile Defender Center. Access Denied: A National Snapshot of States' Failure to Protect Children's Right to Counsel
 identifies five fundamental barriers to access to counsel for children (May 2017).

Learn more.

Mental Health Needs
As many as 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Effective responses involving community-based treatment that engage youth and families are critical in addressing these needs instead of relying on the juvenile justice system.

Caring for Youth with Mental Health Needs in the Juvenile Justice System: Improving Knowledge and Skills (May 2015). Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change.

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Because probation and court services departments interact with juveniles at all the key decisions points including intake, referral, diversion, pre-adjudication, disposition, and community supervision, it is important that they are using effective assessments and programs. A probation system review can help achieve these goals.

Tuel, John A. l and Kari L. Harp.  Probation System Review Guidebook 2ND EDITION. Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice. (August 2016). This is an update of the 2011 guidebook based on experiences in multiple state and local jurisdictions over the past five years. 

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Racial and Ethnic Disparity
Youth of color continue to be overrepresented at almost every point of contact in the juvenile justice system.

The Center for Children’s Law and Policy uses a data-driven model to reduce over-representation. That model focuses on eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in decision-making and program outcomes in order to reduce system entry and penetration of youth of color charged with low-level offenses or technical violations.

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Research indicates that school disciplinary practices can unnecessarily lead to juvenile justice involvement.

Farn, A. & Adams, J. (2016). Education and interagency collaboration: A lifeline for justice involved youth. Washington, DC: Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy. This report provides a summary of research and programs that emphasize the importance of educational opportunities for justice involved youth.

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Status Offenses
Status offenses typically require an immediate response and community interventions that courts are not equipped to provide.

Toolkit for Status Offense System Reform. The toolkit is organized into four modules, each of which is available in PDF for download: (1) Structuring System Change (2) Using Local Information to Guide System Change (3) Planning and Implementing System Change and (4) Monitoring and Sustaining System Change.

Learn more.