Reentry Essentials: Reducing Recidivism and Improving Other Outcomes for Youth and Young Adults

Community Supervision: Probation and Parole
Correctional Supervision: Prisons and Jails
Program Quality and Performance Measurement
Youth/Young Adults

This is the fourth in a series of posts on aspects of successful reentry. Each post will include curated resources related to the featured reentry topic.

By CSG Justice Center Staff

JJ social slideRecent efforts among state and local leaders to reduce the number of youth who are incarcerated have yielded impressive results: the national juvenile incarceration rate has been cut in half over the past two decades, while juvenile arrest rates remain at historic lows. Yet policymakers, practitioners, and advocates alike recognize that improving the juvenile justice system requires more than incarcerating fewer youth. What constitutes success is ensuring that, whenever possible, youth receive supervision and services that support them to avoid further contact with the justice system and transition safely to adulthood.

Youth Are Not Mini Adults

There are unique challenges associated with serving youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Research on adolescent development shows that youth are more likely than adults to engage in risky behaviors, are heavily swayed by their peers, and fail to account for the long-term consequences of their decisions. Additionally, many youth in the juvenile justice system have significant mental health, substance use, child welfare, and education needs. As a result, reducing reoffending and improving other outcomes for youth requires a coordinated approach across service systems; using validated risk and needs assessments to inform supervision, service, and resource-allocation decisions; adopting evidence-based programs and services demonstrated to reduce recidivism and improve other youth outcomes; and tailoring system strategies to reflect the distinct developmental needs of adolescents. Additionally, jurisdictions must make sure they are collecting, analyzing, and using data on system performance, recidivism, and other youth outcomes, such as educational success, to guide and improve system decisions.

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Jurisdictions Are Making Sweeping Changes

State and county leaders are increasingly realizing that, in order to reduce stubbornly high recidivism rates among youth who are under juvenile justice system supervision, they need to take a comprehensive approach to system improvement. This includes conducting a data-driven assessment of current policies, practices, and resource-allocation strategies across branches of government, law enforcement, corrections, probation and parole, and other service systems, and working collaboratively to creatively pool and blend funding streams, programs and services, case planning processes, and staff expertise across these agencies to adopt and more effectively implement what research shows works to improve youth outcomes.

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Both Juvenile and Adult Systems Supervise Young Adults

Developmental research is an important consideration not only for youth, but also for young adults ages 18 to 24 who come in contact with the justice system. Researchers have found that young adulthood is a distinct period of development—one that is characterized by poor decision-making skills, heightened impulsive behavior, and more risk taking when compared to later adulthood, as well as greater vulnerability to peer pressure and other external influences compared to youth. Because young adults may be involved in either the juvenile or adult criminal justice system, and they account for a disproportionately large share of arrests, violent crimes, and recidivism, this population should be an important focus of both systems. 

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