PEW Public Safety Performance Project (PSPP)

Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project (PSPP) works with states to advance data-driven,
fiscally sound policies and practices in the criminal and juvenile justice systems that protect
public safety, hold youth accountable, and keep families together.



South Dakota

After the successful reform of its adult criminal justice system in 2013, South Dakota passed comprehensive juvenile justice legislation in 2015 that focuses placements in residential facilities on only those youth who pose a risk of physical harm to others, prevents deeper involvement of lower-level offenders in the juvenile justice system, and expands access to evidence-based interventions for juvenile offenders and their families while under community supervision. SB 73 passed both chambers of the Legislature by strong majorities, and Governor Dennis Daugaard signed it into law on March 12.


SB 73 was projected to reduce the number of youth in residential placements by more than 50 percent and cut costs at those facilities by more than $32 million within five years of the legislation’s effective date, with resulting savings to be reinvested into evidence-based community intervention programs. SB 73’s changes are based on policy recommendations developed by the bipartisan, interbranch Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative Work Group, which received technical assistance from Pew.


In late 2019, the South Dakota Juvenile Justice Oversight Council reported the following in its annual report:


  • New commitments to the Department of Corrections have decreased 64 percent since 2014, consistent with the state’s goal of focusing out-of-home placements on youth with more serious offenses and backgrounds, and appropriately targeting placements, supervision and services.
  • Services and programming are now available across the state giving families, law enforcement, and judges more options to effectively hold youth accountable and address their needs without removing them from home
  • At the same time, improved public safety outcomes are reflected by the increased proportion of youth successfully completing diversion programming. Overall, the number of probation violations has declined, while successful completions of diversion are high; 80 percent of youth who completed behavior-change programming received no violations.


West Virginia

West Virginia enacted comprehensive juvenile justice reform in 2015 that protects public safety and improves outcomes for youth, families, and communities by increasing community-based alternative sanctions and services, and focusing costly residential beds on the most serious youth. SB 393 passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously, and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed it into law April 2.

The law was projected to reduce the number of youth in residential placements by at least 16 percent, resulting in more than $20 million in avoided costs over five years that can be reinvested in effective community-based alternatives. The reforms enacted were based on recommendations from the inter-branch, bipartisan West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, which received technical assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project.


Following a major criminal justice initiative in 2012, Georgia enacted sweeping juvenile justice reforms. HB 242 passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Deal on May 2, 2013. The bill was projected to reduce commitment of lower-level juvenile offenders to expensive secure facilities and boost proven, community-based alternatives.

HB 242 and accompanying budget initiatives were expected to save the state nearly $85 million through 2018, avoiding the need to open two additional juvenile residential facilities and allowing the state to reinvest a portion of the savings to expand community-based programs and practices proven to reduce recidivism through a new $5 million voluntary, fiscal incentive grant program to counties.


In 2014, Hawaii adopted comprehensive policy recommendations to maximize the effectiveness of its juvenile justice system, improve outcomes for youth and families, and ensure policies and practices are grounded in data and research.  The bill aimed to reduce the use of secure confinement, strengthen community supervision, and cut recidivism by focusing system resources on practices with the greatest impact on public safety.


HB 2490 was projected to reduce the population committed to the state’s secure facility by 60 percent over the next five years, saving $11 million and allowing for a first-year $1.26 million reinvestment in proven community-based interventions.


Following successful adult corrections reforms in 2011, the Kentucky General Assembly shifted its focus to improving the state’s juvenile justice system, adopting SB 200 in the 2014 legislative session. The law aims to ensure that state resources are more effectively used to hold young people accountable, achieve better outcomes for children and families, and protect public safety.

SB 200 is based on recommendations from a bipartisan, inter-branch task force as well as extensive input from stakeholders. Reforms enacted through the legislation were projected to save Kentucky taxpayers as much as $24 million over five years.


In the spring of 2017, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a sweeping juvenile justice reform bill into law after it passed the legislature with broad support. House Bill 239 made numerous changes to Utah’s juvenile code to keep youth adjudicated for lower-level offenses out of costly detention and instead provide evidence-based home-based counseling and supervision in the community.


The bill was a product of the hard work of the inter-branch Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group, a 19-member task force appointed by state leadership and charged with studying state-specific data as part of a comprehensive review of Utah’s juvenile justice system. The Working Group received technical assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project.


The Working Group found that the majority of referrals into the juvenile justice system in Utah were for misdemeanor offenses, and about 80 percent of youth entering the court system for the first time presented a low risk to commit a subsequent offense.  Yet the Working Group found a high proportion of these youth faced stringent court requirements that were inappropriate to their risk level and often counterproductive, including significant financial obligations like fines and fees. Ultimately, many lower-level youth were placed out of home at a significant cost to the state. In fact, out-of-home placement was costing an average of $95,000 per youth per year, up to 17 times more than community supervision. Despite the difference in cost to taxpayers, rates of subsequent offending were very similar—more than 50 percent of young people released from probation and from state custody were convicted of another crime within two years.


These findings by the Working Group laid the foundation for HB 239, which establishes statutory standards for which youth may be removed from their homes and redirects averted costs toward expanding effective community-based services to all court districts in the state. Additionally, the bill establishes standards and criteria for pre-court diversions, caps fines and fees, limits school-based court referrals, and sets limits on the amount of time youth can spend in detention centers and under probation.

The law is aimed at intervening earlier, reducing out-of-home placements for youth exhibiting delinquent behavior for the first time, and focusing residential beds on youth who pose a serious risk to public safety. HB 239 was projected to reduce Utah’s population of youth placed in state custody for delinquency or status offenses by 47 percent compared with previously projected levels. This was projected to free up more than $70 million in state funds for reinvestment into evidence-based programs from reductions in operating costs and savings from out-of-home placement contracts. As detailed in the third link below, Utah has seen significant progress towards these policy goals in the initial years since implementation of HB 239 began.


Senate Bill 367, an act to improve Kansas’ juvenile justice system and developed through technical assistance by the Pew Charitable Trusts, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2016.  Since then, the state has made significant strides toward improving outcomes for youth and families in all 105 counties. By focusing the most intensive resources on the highest-risk juveniles, the state shifted significant state resources toward evidence-based alternatives to commitment, allowing more youth to be safely supervised in their homes. The 2016 law will require years to take full effect, but the progress since reforms were enacted are encouraging.


  • The number of youth placed in the Juvenile Correctional Facility (JCF) significantly declined after reform, accelerating a trend that started before SB 367 became law. In FY 2013, there were 364 youth held in the JCF. In FY 2020, that number was down to 148.
  • KDOC’s month-end population reports showed a near total elimination of the use of non-secure residential (YRCII) placements by 2020. These facilities had traditionally been used mostly for youth whose needs could be better met in their own homes. In June 2015, there were 316 youth in YRCIIs, whereas in FY 2020 there was an average of 1.3; each month from January to June 2020, there were zero.
  • On March 3, 2017, the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) closed one of its two juvenile correctional facilities because its population dropped to just 11 youth by the end of December 2016.
  • Due to the savings realized by the drop in incarceration and the facility closure, the state has freed up nearly $42 million for reinvestment in evidence-based supervision and services, and for dissemination of local and regional innovation grants.
  • Of the first group of youth who completed state-funded Functional Family Therapy, one-year post-completion, 78% of the youth remained at home with their families, 95% were in school or working, and 80% had no new arrest.
  • Immediate Intervention Programs (IIP) have expanded across the state. Ninety-nine out of 105 counties participated in this diversion option to direct behavior change and address youth needs. As of 2020, 90% of youth in a pre-file IIP and 86% of youth in a post-file IIP successfully completed the diversion process.
  • The Kansas Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee, charged with guiding implementation of the changes in law and approving processes for comprehensive data collection to measure performance, has met quarterly since October 2016.


In 2017, Tennessee’s Joint Ad-Hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice, led by state Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, issued a report calling for a series of reforms to its juvenile justice system. The proposed reforms ranged from shifts in procedures regarding school-based referrals to the juvenile system to changes in custody and placement eligibility. They were predicated on the following major findings about Tennessee’s juvenile system

  • Youth adjudicated on misdemeanor offenses, status offenses, and technical violations make up nearly half of youth in out-of-home placement
  • Youth prosecuted in the juvenile system stay longer and endure more placements during their time in custody than five years prior
  • Community-based interventions that effectively hold youth accountable, reduce recidivism, and keep families intact are scarce – particularly in rural jurisdictions

The 110th General Assembly took the first step toward enacting those reform recommendations when it passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018, priority legislation backed by Governor Bill Haslam.

Research Publications Juvenile Incarceration: This report includes findings from a growing body of research, which shows lengthy out-of-home placements in secure corrections or other residential facilities fail to produce better outcomes than alternative sanctions for many juvenile offenders.

Public Opinion on Juvenile Justice in America: This brief analyzes the findings of a nationwide poll conducted in 2014 by a bipartisan team of pollsters, the Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies. Most notably, the poll found that U.S. voters support sending serious juvenile offenders to corrections facilities, but they favor a range of less-costly alternatives for lower-level offenders.

Judging for Juvenile Justice: This Q&A asks judges in three states – Georgia, Hawaii, and Kentucky – what prompted them to engage in juvenile justice reform in their states.

Measuring Juvenile Recidivism: This interactive tool summarizes how juvenile corrections agencies define, measure and report on juvenile recidivism, helping policymakers identify gaps in their states’ available data and establish the reduction of recidivism as a key performance goal of their juvenile justice systems.

Examining National and State trends: This project update, using data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), shows that between 1997 and 2011 the juvenile commitment rate fell in all but four states and the District of Columbia with an overall national decrease of 48 percent.

Highlighting State Reforms: These briefs highlight state level reforms in Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Ohio, and Texas that reduced the number of juveniles in secure state facilities, while also reducing recidivism, protecting public safety, and containing correctional costs.

See the Urban Institute’s summary of reform in 7 states