Currently an estimated 200,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the United States. During the 1990s—the era when many of our most punitive criminal justice policies were developed—49 states altered their laws to increase the number of minors being tried as adults. On any given day, 10,000 youth are detained or incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. Studies show that youth held in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization. Youth of color are over-represented in the ranks of juveniles being referred to adult court. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system does not protect the community and substantially increases the likelihood that youth will re-offend.
Multi-faceted campaigns have proven successful in changing these laws and policies within states. Campaign organizers establish goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and targeted. Youth and parents are involved. Dedicated resources are important. Campaigns include organizing and base-building; coalition building; direct action; external communication and outreach; policy research; strategy; and evaluation and documentation. Celebrating small successes maintains dedication to the effort.
The Campaign for Youth Justice is dedicated to ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. Since 2005, with support from the Open Society, Public Welfare, MacArthur, Annie E. Casey, Ford, Eckerd Family and Tow foundations, the Chasdrew Fund, and Atlantic Philanthropies, the Campaign and its allies have affected policy changes in more than a dozen states. With assistance from the campaign, in 2007 the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance secured the passage of a law that raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18.
Principles of Reform
- Divert Youth from the Justice System
- Reduce Institutionalization
- Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities
- Ensure Access to Quality Counsel
- Create a Range of Effective Community-Based Programs
- Recognize and Serve Youth with Specialized Needs
- Build Small Rehabilitative Facilities
- Improve Aftercare and Reentry
- Engage Youth, Family, and Community
- Keep Youth Out of Adult Courts, Jails, and Prisons
Each National Juvenile Justice Network member embraces these principles of reform, and conducts state-based work on at least two principles. These principles and the associated text are from “Juvenile Justice Reform: A Blueprint,” developed by the Youth Transition Funders Group.