Juvenile Justice Guidebook for LegislatorsGuidebook image

 Nov. 10, 2011

Under a partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, NCSL has published a juvenile justice guidebook addressing the most important juvenile justice policy issues of the day.  This juvenile justice primer highlights significant research, program approaches and gives examples of state legislation. For the complete guidebook in PDF format (114 pages (48,101 KB) click here

The following sections of the guidebook explore juvenile justice reform in the states.

  • Introduction and Overview:  Preventing and addressing juvenile crime and delinquency remain perennial issues in state legislatures today.  Juvenile justice policies require balancing the interests of rehabilitation, accountability and public safety, while also preserving the rights of juveniles.  State lawmakers now more than ever are challenged with making informed choices on ways to cut costs and reduce crime and still meet the needs of youth who commit delinquent acts.
  • Adolescent Development and Competency:  This section discusses recent research that addresses adolescent culpability as compared to adults. The section gives a brief history of the juvenile justice system and highlights data that illustrate the idea that, because adolescents are biologically, psychologically and socially underdeveloped, their age and corresponding limitations of age may be considered as mitigating factors to delinquency.  It discusses adolescents who are sent to adult court, federal standards and state legislation that responds to recent research on adolescent development.
  • Delinquency Prevention and Intervention:  This section explains how early intervention in children's lives can divert juveniles from the adverse consequences attributable to delinquency.   It discusses risk and protective factors and how they help increase or decrease the likelihood that a juvenile will engage in delinquent behavior.  This section also provides examples of strategies and state activity related to truancy and drop-out prevention reforms, examines gang prevention, and considers the cost-benefit of prevention and intervention in youth's lives.
  • Indigent Defense, Counsel & Procedural Issues:  This section highlights the challenges states face in providing adequate legal defense to juvenile offenders, especially those who are indigent.  It explores promising state options to address juvenile defense, which include making it more difficult for juveniles to waive counsel, changing processes for determining indigence, and increasing juvenile defender resources to better ensure quality counsel.  It aslo includes a discussion of juvenile competency to stand trial and offers recommendations of expanded definitions of "competence" for juveniles that take into account social and cognitive development.  Throughout, state legislative examples are noted.
  • Mental Health Needs of Juvenile Offenders:  This section explores the approximately 70 percent of youth in the juvenile system who are affected by a mental disorder.  Effective assessment and comprehensive responses to court-involved juveniles with mental health needs are discussed, to help break the cycle and produce healthier young people who are less likely to commit crimes.  It describes the various disorders prevalent among youth and approaches to screening and assessing such disorders.  Finally, the section highlights state policies that treat the mental health needs of juvenile offenders, including recent legislation to specifically address collaboration strategies in states.
  •  Disproportionate Minority Contact:  This section examines the overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system and discusses state actions to study and address disproportionality.  The section provides examples and progress of specific localities under the Models for Change initiative that have implemented strategic innovations to help reduce disparities.  Also included is a discussion of Annie E. Casey's Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, which gives priority to reducing racial disparities as an integral detention reform strategy.
  • Medicaid for Juvenile Justice-Involved Children:  This section explains how Medicaid can meet the unique needs of juvenile justice-involved youth.  It offers a detailed overview of Medicaid, children's health insurance programs, and covered services.  Included is a discussion of state compliance with federal reimbursement regulations and how to streamline and improve data collection in order to determine Medicaid eligibility.  It also highlights training of state juvenile justice staff on eligibility matters, and gives states legislative examples.
  • Reentry and Aftercare:  This section discusses post-release supervision and services, and supports young people to make safe, successful transitions from residential placement facilities to their home communities.  It describes the juvenile reentry population, gives suggested approaches to aftercare, and discusses reentry from a developmental perspective.  Throughout, examples of state actions are given that support services to juvenile offenders who are reentering society.
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis of Juvenile Justice Programs:  This section includes a timely discussion of the cost-benefit analysis of youth and juvenile justice programs.  Cost-benefit analysis has seen a heightened national interest in recent years due to the state fiscal climate and suggests how lawmakers can allocate funds most efficiently.  It highlights successful programs where cost-benefit analysis has helped save money and produce better results for system-involved youth.
  • References, Glossary and Resources:  This final section provides source documentation of research discussed in the text and citations to legislation.  The glossary section provides common meanings for many juvenile justice terms and information about key groups as sources for additional research and information is provided.  This section also describes how NCSL's partnership project with the MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change initiative is an ongoing resource that is available to help state legislatures with information, training and technical assistance on juvenile justice reform.