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November 2013Vol. 14, No. 8Reforming Juvenile Justice

In 2010, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the U.S. Department of Justice asked the National Research Council to convene a committee to conduct a study of juvenile justice reform over the previous 15 years, with an emphasis on adolescent development. In November 2012, the National Research Council released Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach, a report that summarizes the study's findings and makes recommendations for additional reforms through the lens of adolescent development.

The report provides historical context for juvenile justice reform by discussing the many laws passed in the 1990s that criminalized various juvenile offenses and led to more youths being tried as adults. It describes the ways in which adolescent development affects cognition and behavior and how the current juvenile justice system may not be best serving the needs of adolescents, including racial and ethnic minorities who are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. The report may be of interest to child welfare professionals, given the body of research confirming the connection between youth involved with child welfare and juvenile delinquency—often referred to as crossover youth.

The report outlines three guiding principles for juvenile justice reform—accountability, preventing reoffending, and fairness—that both supports the positive social development of youth and promotes community safety. It concludes with recommendations for various stakeholders in the juvenile justice system, including the following:

  • State and Tribal governments should establish task forces or commissions under high-level oversight to initiate reform.
  • OJJDP's role in preventing delinquency and supporting juvenile justice should be strengthened.
  • Federal agencies should support research that advances knowledge of adolescent development and how adolescent development influences juvenile delinquency and justice system responses.
  • Federal agencies should improve their data collection efforts related to adolescents and juvenile justice.

To view Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach, visit: