While cases of delinquency and status offending have been on the decline since their peak in 1997, court systems around the country still disposed a large number of cases in 2018—about 744,500 delinquency and 101,400 status offense cases. The reduction in cases is the result of over two decades of reform, coupled with research on adolescent development that promotes appropriate responses to address problem behavior among youth and reduce their chances for continued justice system involvement. Research has helped develop a greater understanding of the constellation of complex individual, family, peer, school, and community-related needs of system-involved youth. The development of structured decision-making tools such as risk and needs assessments, as well as the implementation of developmentally appropriate programs, have resulted in better outcomes for youth. Despite these and other advances, juvenile justice practitioners face challenges, such as implementing evidence-based programs with fidelity, matching youth to the services they need to prevent further delinquency or adult criminal justice system involvement, partnering with school administrators to ensure that justice-involved youth are enrolled in supportive school settings, and engaging with workforce development programs to prepare justice-involved emerging young adults for work.
Incarceration also affects the partners and children of those in jails and prisons. Over half of prison and jail inmates are parents, and nearly 7.5 million children in 2006 had at least one parent who was incarcerated or under correctional supervision. Many incarcerated and reentering adults are in committed intimate relationships, often involving cohabitation and/or marriage prior to incarceration. Given the disproportionate effects of incarceration on communities of color, understanding family and social ties in the context of incarceration is integral to understanding the experiences of many of society’s most vulnerable adults and children. Further, the important role of the family in supporting a reentering individual’s reintegration and promoting desistance from criminal activity suggests the need for empirically based solutions to promote family contact and strengthen family relationships during incarceration and after release.
The RTI Center for Courts and Corrections Research has a history of working at the state level to improve system responses to delinquency to curtail further involvement of youth in the justice system. From administration of statewide surveys and focus groups with practitioners and system stakeholders to linkage, preparation, and analysis of complex, multisystem administrative data, our research efforts are particularly focused on informing policy and practice to reduce recidivism among youth involved at the “deep end” of the juvenile justice system and youth reentering their communities after confinement. Through translation of research, we have assisted juvenile justice policymaking in the areas of needs-to-service matching, education and workforce development, the needs of LGBTQ+ youth, and family engagement.