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Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States

Introduction

People across the country -- from every racial, socioeconomic, and political sphere -- are concerned about the increase in the number of crimes committed by juveniles. Policymakers are mobilizing to respond, in light of statistics that support this fear and indicate that the incidence of violent crimes committed by youth is intolerably high. This heightened concern and attention, coupled with an expected increase in the youth population over the next decade, have policymakers scrambling to find effective and affordable ways to prevent delinquency and to intervene with and sanction youth who commit crimes.

Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States: 1994-1996 is designed to provide timely information to policymakers on the mechanisms that States are using to respond to increased youth violence and delinquency. The report is broken down into four chapters that discuss in detail the juvenile crime and delinquency problem and highlight State responses to that challenge.

Chapter I, The Scope of Juvenile Violence, provides an overview of the incidence of youth crime in the Nation, discusses trends in violent juvenile crimes, considers how and why youth crimes are being committed, and gives a prognosis for the future. A full discussion of the statistics collected and reported on juvenile crime is provided, as is a discussion of the factors, such as firearms, gangs, and drug use, that are believed to be major contributors to this country's youth crime epidemic.

Chapter II, Issues and Trends in State Juvenile Justice Reform, highlights major issues and trends associated with recent State responses to youth crime in this country. This chapter addresses the following policy initiatives:

bullet Crime prevention.
bullet Curfews.
bullet Parental responsibility.
bullet Gang activities, including drug trafficking.
bullet Graduated sanctions.
bullet Juvenile boot camps.
bullet Youth and guns.
bullet Juvenile records.
bullet Juvenile waivers.
bullet Expanded sentencing authority.

Chapter III, Selected Case Studies of Juvenile Reform Initiatives, discusses in depth the reform initiatives in four States -- Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, and Oregon. Each case study describes in detail the elements of the State's reform initiatives based on interviews with officials in the State. Further, this chapter describes the relevant catalysts for changes to the administration of juvenile justice in each jurisdiction and the positions of opponents and proponents of the reform initiatives as they moved through the legislative process.

Finally, chapter IV, Observations Concerning State Juvenile Justice Reform, summarizes in general terms the juvenile justice reform trends that have been taking place around the country and includes observations and recommendations based on the experiences of States undertaking both single-issue and comprehensive juvenile justice reform.

Methodology, Uses, and Limitations

National Criminal Justice Association staff compiled information from a variety of sources for use in this report. The publications of other organizations; various journal, newsletter, magazine, and newspaper articles; and Federal Government publications constitute the major reference documents used in chapters I and II. This secondary research was complemented with primary source references, especially in the case of State code citations, when further explanation of a State program or policy was appropriate or necessary.

The case studies in chapter III represent original, primary source research. The case studies were completed by reviewing copies of reform legislation, obtaining relevant State-generated documentation about the various reform initiatives, and conducting telephone interviews with key players in each State's reform initiative.

This report targets State-level decisionmakers who are concerned with the issues surrounding juvenile justice reform from policy initiation through implementation. It should be viewed as a tool for lawmakers and policymakers who are searching for ways to help improve the administration of juvenile justice in their States. This report does not seek to evaluate, empirically or otherwise, existing programs but reports on what those programs are and, when available, recounts self-reporting on their impact on the incidence of youth crime.


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