Juvenile offenders are seen differently by the courts. They require a court process that is different from their adult counterparts. Juveniles do not go to trial, they are adjudicated; they are not charged with crimes, they are charged with offenses; they are not sentenced, they receive detention alternatives. Court processes for juveniles require more than superficial modifications to the adult justice system. Over the last decade, a great deal of research has been conducted to find out what works and, more importantly, what does not work with juvenile offenders.
The NCJFCJ understands that juvenile justice reform is of paramount importance. The NCJFCJ supports the appropriate increased resources to enable the juvenile justice system to deal more effectively with the serious and complicated problems presented by troubled youth. The NCJFCJ believes in order to drive juvenile justice reform, the production and application of the best available information are essential. This philosophy is embodied in our organizational strength as the preeminent national membership organization and the voice of juvenile court judges assisted by the NCJFCJ’s research division, the National Center for Juvenile Justice’s (NCJJ) reputation for producing and translating juvenile justice data, research, and findings to distill the facts of the matter.
The purpose of NCJJ’s Juvenile Justice Model Data Project is to enhance the quality and consistency of justice information to advance juvenile justice reform efforts at the national level through data improvements at the state, local, and tribal levels. The NCJFCJ recognizes that judges play a critical role in the juvenile justice system reform. The NCJFCJ promotes juvenile justice reforms through its resolutions. The NCJFCJ embraces a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform and has advocated for judicial training in adolescent brain development and its application to juvenile probation, the elimination of shackling children in court, reducing the use of fines and fees in juvenile court, reduced use of group facilities and increased oversight of youth confinement facilities, reduced use of solitary confinement, trauma-informed juvenile and family courts that address the needs of homeless youth, their families, probation departments, and coordinated responses to victims of sex trafficking.
The NCJFCJ has issued policy statements that address the foundations of juvenile justice in the U.S such as the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and the due process rights of children established 50 years ago in the historic Gault decision. The NCJFCJ also supported the Access to Juvenile Justice Irrespective of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE) and the principles of adolescent development in delinquency proceedings bench cards issued by the National Juvenile Defender Center.
For more than a decade, NCJJ supported juvenile justice reform through its involvement in the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change reform initiative. NCJJ applied years of experience as system insiders to assist state and local level stakeholders to collect, analyze, and report data to document the outcomes of their reform efforts. NCJJ is subcontracting with the National Center for State Courts in the Juvenile Justice Reform Project (JJRP) to provide technical assistance to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Commission (OECS) and the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) to support juvenile justice reform in six independent territories of the Eastern Caribbean.
NCJJ’s Juvenile Justice GPS (Geography, Policy, Practice & and Statistics) website provides state policymakers and system stakeholders a clear understanding of the landscape of reform across the country to inspire change and find solutions that have been applied in other places.
The NCJFCJ, under contract with Nevada’s DHS, is developing and maintaining the Nevada Center for Juvenile Justice Innovation (NCJJI), an evidence-based resource center designed to support Nevada’s statewide effort to require the use of evidence-based programs in juvenile justice. The NCJJI will help provide a consistent approach to reform efforts across the state.
The NCJFCJ’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court training and technical assistance project works to improve outcomes for youth handled in juvenile drug courts across the country. The most requested assistance includes screening, referral, and acceptance processes; research on effective practices; targeted population and eligibility criteria; and adolescent development. Drug court teams develop action plans on issues such as targeting population, eligibility criteria, use of incentives and sanctions; team composition; and family engagement.
Jurisdictions have begun using the Juvenile Justice Model Data project’s framework to guide and improve their juvenile justice information systems and their use of data. The NCJFCJ’s resolutions and policy statements carry great weight in the field providing guidance for local judges in their day-to-day work on the bench. As the voice of juvenile court judges, NCJFCJ is helping to lead juvenile justice reform. The Models for Change Initiative produced many examples of change in varying juvenile justice policy environments and NCJJ still connects stakeholders in other states to these lessons. The Juvenile Justice GPS website is a well-used site for policymakers and advocates alike. Its information has been referenced by task forces, news media, and legislation. Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts are but one tool for jurisdictions interested in reforming their approach to juvenile justice in a developmentally, trauma-informed manner.
The Juvenile Justice GPS and lessons learned from NCJJ/NCJFCJ projects are broadly disseminated with the goal of reinforcing positive changes for juvenile justice in America. NCJJ/NCJFCJ remains a critical stakeholder in this process, helping to transfer the best techniques for informing change with strong information and continuous quality improvement cycles and using the NCJFCJ membership as critical leaders for influencing progress toward a better system. The NCJFCJ recommends federal support for juvenile justice reform efforts, including continued collaboration between OJJDP and private foundations.