Core Value: Recognizing Youth-Adult Differences

An effective juvenile justice system acknowledges the fundamental developmental differences between youth and adults.3 An effective juvenile justice system utilizes adolescent development research to facilitate healthy development and address the needs, characteristics and assets of youth rather than relying upon adult criminal justice approaches.4

Unnecessary delinquency-system involvement can have a profound negative impact on healthy adolescent development and long term successful outcomes.

  • Youth must not enter the delinquency system due to unaddressed mental health, substance abuse, educational, housing or parenting needs. Practitioners at every stage of the system must have opportunities and expectations to divert youth to more effective, less intrusive and less expensive community-based services which address these needs effectively.
  • Policy and practice safeguards must be developed to ensure that youth and families involved in the delinquency system are not unnecessarily pulled into the child welfare system.

When youth are in conflict with the law, an effective juvenile justice system utilizes least restrictive interventions, consistent with public safety and youth needs, to reduce disruption of protective factors and support systems, such as pro-social connections to school, family, community, adults and other youth.

  • Interventions must be targeted based on levels of criminogenic risk and need. Unnecessary intervention in the lives of low risk youth can actually increase risk; thus, low risk youth must not be removed from their communities nor placed in disruptive interventions unnecessarily. Youth with highest risk and needs receive the most intense interventions and supervision.

An effective juvenile justice system uses secure confinement as a last resort and in ways narrowly tailored to preserve public safety.

  • Policy and practice safeguards must ensure that low-risk youth and non-offenders are not incarcerated due to a lack of community-based placements and services, particularly in times of fiscal limitations, service cuts and structural reorganizations.
  • Incarceration must not be utilized as a placement option for abused or neglected youth or minors requiring authoritative intervention (runaways, lockouts, truants and other non-offenders) who are difficult to serve or place in the community.
  • In addition to implementing “no entry” strategies focused on reducing unnecessary commitments to detention and corrections, policy and practice must be developed to prevent youth from reentering secure facilities for probation or parole violations and / or failures to comply with technical terms of release.

3.The fundamental differences between youth and adults are clearly recognized by the core requirements of the federal JJDP Act, which prohibits the confinement of youth in adult facilities such as county jails and municipal lockups (subject to narrow, time-restricted exceptions), and also requires that youth be protected through “sight and sound” separation of youth and adult, whenever they are held in the same facilities. It should be noted that the Commission is currently working with a number of states to ensure that the JJDP Act is not interpreted and applied in such a way as to require young people subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to be removed to adult facilities when they turn 18 years old.

4The Act also clearly recognizes the harmful impact of unnecessary confinement of young people, in many ways, including the DSO core requirement, which prohibits the secure detention of “status offenders,” subject to narrow exceptions and limits. Status offenders are youth who have engaged in non-criminal behavior which prohibited because of their age, including truancy, running away from home and underage tobacco or alcohol consumption.