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Juvenile Justice in a Developmental Framework: A 2015 Status Report

Published Dec 11, 2015, Models for Change

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Advances in the understanding of adolescent development have provided a foundation for progress in juvenile justice reform, including changes in state legislation. In accord with the Supreme Court’s recognition of a basic principle—that children are different from adults, and the justice systems that deal with them must be shaped by those differences—state after state has to some degree adopted developmentally appropriate legislation. These reforms mark a dramatic change from the harsh and punitive laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s.

This report defines developmentally appropriate best practices in nine key juvenile justice policy areas and examines which states (and the District of Columbia) have, as of mid-2015, incorporated those practices into their juvenile justice statutes. The policy areas are status offense rules, age limits for juvenile court jurisdiction, transfer to adult court, access to counsel, competency to stand trial, courtroom shackling, solitary confinement, juvenile records, and sex offender registration.

We find that in every one of these policy areas, some states have incorporated best practices into legislation. In addition, every state has taken steps in some policy areas to legislate best practices. At the same time, the analysis shows that there is considerable room for improvement in all policy areas and by all states. While a great deal of reform is taking place in the courts and in local programs, much of that progress is not yet reflected in state legislation.


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Models for Change was a juvenile justice systems reform initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.