New Report Focuses on Young Adults in the Justice System



NCSL press release

Nashville—Young adults, age 18-24, represent less than 10% of the U.S. population, yet account for 23% of all arrests. Compared to the general population, young adults reoffend at a greater rate and are more than twice as likely to be the victim of a serious violent offense.

This age group also has some of the highest rates of behavioral health disorders. Seventy-five percent of mental illnesses begin before the age of 24. And among young adults with a serious mental disorder, over one-third also have a substance use disorder.

These are some of the statistics highlighted in a new report released by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) during its annual Legislative Summit in Nashville, Tenn.

The report, "Legislator Primer Series for Front-End Justice: Young Adults in the Justice System," examines this age group’s overrepresentation in the justice system. In addition, it explores developing research on young adults’ unique developmental and behavioral health needs and offending characteristics.

Emerging research has prompted some policymakers to reevaluate the effectiveness of traditional justice responses and explore strategies “outside the box” to successfully redirect the trajectory of justice-involved young adults.

The new report highlights tools legislators and system partners have used to advance informed policy and budget decisions specific to the needs of young adults in their communities, including:

  • Supporting increasingly robust data collection on this age group.
  • Promoting data sharing across systems—including criminal justice, health care, and social services.
  • Examining the young adult justice-involved population and needs specific to the community.
  • Identifying existing state and local resources, as well as gaps or disconnects in services.
  • Researching current state laws and policies for opportunities and barriers to success for young adults.

NCSL would like to acknowledge the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge for their assistance in this report.

Read a full copy of the report.


NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.