Juvenile Justice Principles


A Report from the Juvenile Justice Principles Work Group

Cover of the Juvenile Justice Policy reportThe NCSL Juvenile Justice Principles Work Group project was developed under an NCSL partnership with the public safety performance project (PSPP) of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

PSPP helps states advance fiscally sound, data‚Äźdriven policies and practices in the criminal and juvenile justice systems that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs. The NCSL project responds to the challenges faced by states in these and other aspects of juvenile justice, including helping youth develop the skills to succeed, preserving and strengthening families, minimizing harm, and enhancing fairness and equity.

The NCSL Criminal Justice Program assembled the Juvenile Justice Principles Work Group in early 2017. The bipartisan, 15-member group includes officers of NCSL’s Law and Criminal Justice Committee and other legislators who are recognized as leaders on these issues.

The group spent 11 months identifying principles for effective juvenile justice policymaking that are rooted in research, reflect bipartisan or nonpartisan values, and help states invest in proven methods to put justice-involved youth back on the right track, while keeping communities safe. After developing the principles, the work group explained and illustrated them with examples of key issues and approaches.

The issues addressed by the work group reflect the important role of state legislatures in enacting policies that avoid unnecessary involvement of youth in the justice system and support evidence-based interventions that reduce recidivism and protect public safety. While lawmakers and the group recognize that serious and violent crimes committed by the most serious young offenders may require secure confinement, a major interest of the group was how to sustain and reinforce current trends of falling juvenile crime and out-of-home placement rates.

Many concepts addressed in the principles emerged from research on effective approaches in addressing juvenile delinquency to achieve better outcomes for youth and communities. Mindful that juvenile justice policies impact various levels and branches of government and the communities they serve, the principles also reflect the value lawmakers place on involving stakeholders in policy development and the importance of interbranch and intergovernmental collaboration, information exchange, transparency and evaluation. 

The work of this group, and the report produced, capture fundamental principles for juvenile justice policy. It is the intent of NCSL and this work group that the principles and examples presented here will help guide and inform many aspects of juvenile justice policy now and well into the future.