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Courting Judicial Excellence in Juvenile Justice: A 50-State Study

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Juvenile court judges are the most important public figures in the juvenile justice system—their decisions impact whether hundreds of thousands of youth each year become court involved and for how long, whether they are involuntarily removed from their homes and communities, and the services they receive. Despite the importance of these judges, however, states and locales have generally not assessed whether and how the structure, roles, and operations of their juvenile courts support or hinder public safety and positive youth outcomes.

Yet many communities across the country are experiencing increasing concern and divisiveness on responses to juvenile crime and related juvenile justice reforms. As a result, juvenile court judges are on the front lines of determining how best to balance community safety, public sentiment, media scrutiny, and political pressure with a commitment to research-based approaches and data-driven decision-making.

With support from the State Justice Institute, staff from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) conducted an analysis in 2021 of how courts that handle juvenile delinquency cases (“juvenile courts”) are structured and operate in all 50 states. Our report stemming from this analysis is structured around five key recommendations that include rationales, concrete policies and practices for states to adopt, and related state best practices and innovations for jurisdictions to consider. States can use the report to identify gaps in their policies and practices, as well as promising practices and innovations from other states, and to advance a set of policy and practice recommendations for court improvement.

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