How State Reform Efforts Are Transforming Juvenile Justice

Mar 27, 2020 |

The Pew Charitable Trusts, Issue Brief, November 2019

Agency leaders share the history and potential of research-driven policy change


Since 2012, a growing number of states have used data and research to inform sweeping policy changes that aim to improve juvenile justice systems. Their efforts include prioritizing use of detention and out-of-home placement for youth who present the greatest public safety risk, limiting the length of their confinement, reinvesting taxpayer savings to expand access to evidence-based services, and supporting community-based interventions for lower-level offenses. These changes reflect a growing body of research showing that costly, extended out-of home placements often fail to produce better outcomes than alternative approaches. To understand the challenges and benefits of this shift, staff members from The Pew Charitable Trusts spoke with current and former leaders of juvenile justice agencies from three states that have undertaken comprehensive reform: Randy Bowman of Kansas, Kristi Bunkers of South Dakota, and Merton Chinen of Hawaii. Although the details vary, these leaders all said reform was necessary because their states were sending high numbers of low-level, low-risk youth to expensive out-of-home facilities and getting poor returns on those investments. They also agreed that using data and research to change minds and shape policy was critical to their states’ success, and they celebrated the opportunity presented by reform to redirect funds previously used for incarceration to strengthen evidence-based community programs.

Read full brief here