Juvenile Sanctions

The official definition as defined in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2002 states, graduated sanctions are:

An accountability-based graduated series of sanctions (including incentives, treatment, and services) applicable to juveniles  within the juvenile justice system to hold such juveniles accountable for their actions and to protect communities from the effects of juvenile delinquency by providing appropriate sanctions for every act for which a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, by inducing their law-abiding behavior, and by preventing their subsequent involvement with the juvenile justice system.

Graduated sanctions can mean different things to different people and different systems; however, we know that graduated sanctions need to be administered quickly and must be an appropriate response to the first signs of delinquent behaviors in children and youth. Ultimately, graduated sanctions are envisioned as a multi-tiered continuum of interventions that allows the juvenile justice system to carefully match its sanction and treatment response to each youth’s offense severity, level of risk, and service needs.

The NCJFCJ has created several links to the left to help your jurisdiction design, implement, and administer graduated sanctions (and incentives) that may improve outcomes for the youth in your community.

Some ideas are extreme, but in an initiative developed by Volkswagen known as the Fun Theory, we can see how people's behavior can change by using different types of motivation. This is what we are trying to accomplish when we use graduated sanctions to encourage positive behavior change for at-risk youth. To view the video, click on the related picture below.


Download a copy of the Getting Started Task List to develop help stimulate the brain-storming process.

Use the Developing a Sanctions System to assist stakeholders and other key personnel.

Conduct a Needs Assessment to ascertain where current gaps exist.

Use the Incentives & Sanctions "Laundry List" as a starting off point when developing incentives and sanctions for your program.

Use Incentive and Sanctions Charts to help develop a system that is connected to goals and outcomes.

Visit the Juvenile Graduated Sanctions E-Tool for more information.


1. The juvenile court judge should be the leader of the core team sustaining leadership throughout the planning and implementation phase.

2. The core team should be balanced between systems and community representatives and public and private service provides.

3. The planning publication Graduated Sanctions for Juvenile Offenders: A Program Model and Planning Guide, should be the primary reference source.

4. Jurisdictions should develop a continuum of graduated sanction responses at all levels of graduated sanctions.

5. A system must have a wide range of potential sanctions and interventions in order to effectively link various types of offenders with the most appropriate program.

6. Jurisdictions should initiate or improve structured decision making to assure fairness and objectivity and to link delinquent youth to appropriate programs and services in a graduated sanctions continuum.

7. Establishment of mechanisms for clearer and more consistent communication between collaborating agencies across traditional policy and practice boundaries should be documented.

8. Improvement should be considered in the jurisdictional management information system (MIS) to capture data and provide management reports that allow for improved decision making and resource allocation. Data should justify the continuation, expansion, modification or elimination of existing graduated sanctions programs and initiation of new ones, where indicated.

9. The graduated sanctions continuum should become self-perpetuating. To achieve that end, jurisdictions should encourage their staff to utilize cross training and mentoring to new staff.

10. Each jurisdiction should do an impact evaluation, which should demonstrate the effect of graduated sanctions on the overall juvenile crime rate and a reduction in detention rates and a corresponding increase in diversion rates for special needs offenders, including minority youth, female offenders, and youth with mental health and learning problems. 

For a more detailed copy of the Key Principles click here.


Why are graduated sanctions so important to the juvenile justice system?
Graduated sanctions have become the predominate conceptual framework for organizing interventions with juvenile offenders. The model first received widespread attention when it was included as a key component of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP) Comprehensive Strategy for Serious Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders (1993). Beginning in fiscal year 1998, OJJDP was appropriated $250 million for the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program with the 2002 reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. This program, designed to assist states and local units of government promotes greater accountability in the juvenile justice system and helps communities become more effective in holding juvenile offenders accountable, reducing recidivism, and protecting students, school personnel, and the community from drug, gang and youth violence.
What is the continuum of graduated sanctions?
At the front end of the continuum is prevention - actions taken to stop juveniles from entering the juvenile justice system in the first place. Immediate sanctions are targeted toward less serious non-chronic offenders. Early interventions are designed to hold youth accountable for their actions by sanctioning illegal behavior and, if required, securing needed services. Typical immediate sanctions include restorative justice interventions. Immediate sanctions are frequently delivered in the context of diversion from formal court processing. Intermediate sanctions are appropriate for juveniles, who continue to offend following immediate interventions, youth who have committed more serious offenses, and some violent offenders who need supervision, structure, and monitoring, but not necessarily confinement. This type of sanction includes community-based corrections such as intensive supervision, day treatment, probation, electronic monitoring, and alternative schools. Secure care provides treatment and transition services while a youth is removed from home, usually in a state training school or a residential treatment facility. Transition services span the final phase of confinement and the first phase of reentry and include pre-release planning with the offender, family, community agencies, and the local team interacting with the court during this phase.  Reentry is a series of sanctions applied during the planned period of community supervision following release, leading to case closure/termination.
What is the target population of graduated sanctions?
The primary target population for graduated sanctions is youthful offenders who could be referred by law enforcement, schools or juvenile courts to:  1) community-managed alternatives, i.e. probation; 2) detention; and 3) secure confinement.
What specifically do graduated sanctions do in regard to reentry?
It encourages juvenile courts to become active in reentry at this deep end of the system.  A population of youth who tend to have relatively few services expended on them. They tend to lag far behind their peers in educational attainment, have more extensive histories of involvement with drugs and suffer from mental health disorders at far higher rates.  Juvenile courts are encouraged courts to become actively involved with court-based reentry programs. Reentry planning begins at the disposition hearing (exit upon entry) or at least at the time the youth enters an institutional setting so that active plans for success have been made by the time release to the community occurs. Key programming occurs in the community (i.e., housing, employment and substance abuse treatment). Many systems need to improve the sharing of information before and after placement, between institutions, where offenders are placed, and the agencies that provide services. Also, treatment and programming should be consistent between the institutional phase and the reintegration phase so that gains made while in placement are reinforced in the community.