A new federally commissioned report led by University of Virginia law professor Richard Bonnie lays out a blueprint to reform the nation’s juvenile justice system to better hold youth offenders accountable, prevent recidivism and ensure adolescent offenders are treated fairly.
The report, “Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach,” was commissioned by the National Research Council at the request of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. The report’s authors argue that the juvenile justice system must be overhauled to incorporate an emerging body of knowledge about adolescent development and effective interventions, which should improve outcomes for young offenders and society as a whole.
“What we’re trying to come up with is a juvenile-justice system that has accountability without criminalization,” said Bonnie, vice chairman of the Committee on Assessing Juvenile Justice Reform, which produced the report. “It’s important that kids be held accountable. But the same tools of accountability that are used for adults are not a good fit for adolescents because they interfere with successful development rather than promoting it.”
Along with Bonnie, director of UVA’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy, the committee consists of leading experts in neuroscience, criminology, mental health, economics, developmental psychology and more.
The report outlines a number of guiding principles that it says should be incorporated in juvenile justice reform. Among these are:
- Use restitution and community service as ways to hold offenders accountable to victims and the community.
- Confine juveniles sparingly and only when necessary to respond to and prevent serious reoffending.
- Avoid collateral consequences of being in the juvenile justice system, such as the public release of juvenile justice records that could reduce the offender’s opportunities for a successful transition to adult life.
- Engage the adolescent offender’s family as much as possible and draw on neighborhood resources to encourage pro-social development and law-abiding behavior.
Read more about the report and its findings here.