Juvenile Justice Reform
The juvenile justice system in the United States is in urgent need of reform. Nationwide each year, police make 2.1 million juvenile arrests;1 1.7 million cases are referred to juvenile courts;2 and over 200,000 youth are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system.3 The United States incarcerates more youth than any other country in the world such that on any given night, approximately 81,000 youth are confined in juvenile facilities,4 and 10,000 children are held in adult jails and prisons.5 Wherever they are held, incarcerated youth are particularly vulnerable to victimization and abuse.6 The United States is also alone in imposing the sentence of life without parole for crimes committed as children. Recent estimates find that 2,589 people are currently serving a juvenile life without parole sentence.7
Over the past 20 years, however, scientific research has vastly increased our understanding of how to best approach juvenile delinquency and system reform. Promising reforms are being implemented in many jurisdictions, and there is an increasingly clear path for moving from counterproductive, dangerous, and wasteful practices toward more effective and just approaches to addressing adolescent crime. Leaders in the Executive and Legislative branches have the opportunity and the obligation to help establish a meaningful system of justice for all of our youth, and should begin by focusing on (i) restoring the federal leadership role in juvenile justice policy, (ii) preventing crime and diverting youth from the justice system, (iii) keeping court-involved youth safe, (iv) removing youth from the adult criminal justice system, and (v) helping youth return to their communities.