The NCSL Blog


By Anne Teigen

Earlier this month, a new NCSL work group formed to develop a set of bedrock principles of effective juvenile justice state policy, met for the first time in Newport Beach, Calif.

(From left), Senator Yvanna Cancella (Nevada), Sarah Brown, director of NCSL's Criminal Justice program and co-chairs Senator Whitney Westerfield (Kentucky) and Senator Patty Pansing Brooks (Nebraska). NCSL photo by Allison Lawrence.The Juvenile Justice Principles Work Group, made up of 15 state legislative leaders in juvenile justice from across the country, was convened through a partnership with NCSL and the Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project.

NCSL will publish a report to guide policy review and reform in the state based on the work group’s findings.

The report is intended to identify policy-making strategies that are rooted in research, reflect bipartisan values, and help states invest in proven methods to put justice-involved youth back on the right track, while also keeping communities safe. The group is led by co-chairs Senator Whitney Westerfield (R) from Kentucky and Senator Patty Pansing Brooks (NP) from Nebraska. 

The first meeting was an opportunity for members to meet and get information on data-driven policymaking, and the latest research on the causes of juvenile delinquency and effective responses, as well as hear judicial and agency perspectives on juvenile justice reform.

Xavier McElrath-Bey, a senior adviser for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, kicked off the meeting by sharing his story about involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. McElrath-Bey provided a first-person example of the importance of developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed policies. He now holds a bachelor’s degree in social science from Roosevelt University, and is a proud father and national advocate for at-risk youth.

Dr. Elizabeth Cauffman, professor and director of the Center for Psychology and Law at the University of California, Irvine, presented in-depth information on adolescent brain development and the results of her research on psychosocial maturity of adolescents and desistance from crime. This research shows that most adolescents who commit serious offenses reduce their offending over time, regardless of the intervention they receive.

Additionally, the research shows that longer juvenile incarcerations do not reduce recidivism, that community-based supervision during aftercare can reduce recidivism, and that substance abuse treatment reduces both substance use and offending.   

Terri Williams, who oversaw the executive branch juvenile justice continuum in Kansas as the deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections from 2012-2017, also presented to the work group.

Her presentation focused on the 2016 legislative reforms in Kansas and how the state worked to improve public safety by increasing evidence-based programs for youth in their communities and to reduce the state’s over-reliance on out of home placements.

Judge Lisa Jones, district court judge of Daviess County, Ky., and member of the Kentucky Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, presented on the state’s 2014 comprehensive juvenile justice reform and the work she has done monitoring the implementation of that legislation. Kentucky’s reform has become a model for bipartisan, cross-branch juvenile justice reform.  

The work group is slated to hold its second meeting in Boston on Aug. 5, during NCSL’s Legislative Summit. 

Anne Teigen is a program principal in NCSL's Criminal Justice program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.