Juvenile justice systems nationwide are failing youth, families and communities. Each year, an estimated 400,000 youth – the overwhelming majority of whom are accused of minor and non-violent offenses—are locked up in detention or correctional facilities. Despite research showing that incarceration leads to high juvenile recidivism rates, as well as poor education, employment, and health outcomes for youth, systems often fail to use alternatives to incarceration that have been shown to be more effective at rehabilitating young people. Moreover, an estimated 250,000 youth are tried in the adult criminal justice system annually, and nearly 10,000 youth are housed in adult jails or prisons on any given night. These policies ignore the well-established differences between youth and adults, increase recidivism rates, and expose youth in adult jails and prisons to high rates of sexual abuse and suicide. Youth of color are disproportionately likely to suffer the harms of these failed policies and practices.
The Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Program supports groups working to end the criminalization and over-incarceration of youth in the United States. In particular, the Program makes grants to groups that are working to advance systems reforms that will:
- Reduce youth incarceration rates in the juvenile justice system (through policies that, for example, limit the use of incarceration, expand the use of community-based alternatives to incarceration, reduce lengths of stay, and/or decriminalize minor misbehaviors or otherwise divert youth from the juvenile court system);
- End the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth as adults; and
- Promote more fair and equitable treatment of youth of color by the juvenile justice system.
Liz Ryan discusses juvenile justice reform