Major United States Government review of young adult criminal justice programmes published

A major report has been launched today by the US Department of Justice summarising 56 young adult specific criminal justice interventions across the United States.

Produced by The National Institute of Justice – the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice – it reports the widespread momentum building across the country for young adult specific interventions, defining this group as those aged 18-25. It notes that:

All established programs included in the scan identified some level of success…Achievement of success generally focused on the reduction of recidivism rates. A common theme in all programs is the inclusion of case management or coordination, combined with intensive services. Individualized services included education or vocational training, mental and/or substance abuse treatment, and assistance with housing and employment. Many programs offer reduced sentencing or probation, expungement of records, or a reduction in charges as an incentive for participation. Programs ranged from those still in the developmental stages to several that have provided services and supports to justice-involved young adults for several years.

The report also notes a series of legislative developments at State level, which have sought to deliver distinct approaches to young adults:

Legislative changes in the approach to how young adults are handled within the justice system have centered around three main themes. This includes raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, consideration of mitigating circumstances in sentencing, and the expungement of criminal records of young adults. Connecticut has garnered much attention for the governor’s proposal to raise the age at which a person can be tried as an adult to 21 years. Several states have proposed legislation that would allow judges to take into account the age at which a crime is committed as a mitigating factor in sentencing, allowing for lesser sentences based on the maturation level of young adults. Several states have considered laws to expunge the criminal records of young adults, reducing the long-term consequences of actions of young adults who may lack the judgment and critical thinking skills of older adults.

Six of these projects are young adult courts:

In these programs, the courts initiated the program and serve as the managing entity. Several persons interviewed indicated they knew of other jurisdictions that are considering establishing a court specifically for young adults. These programs are generally funded through the state supreme court system. They may have a judge or judges dedicated solely to the program or this may be one of their court responsibilities within the jurisdiction. In some cases, the judge involved identified the need for a specialized court and collaborated with probation, county attorneys, community agencies and leaders in the community to develop the program. Several programs mentioned that they modeled their programs on drug courts or juvenile/family courts, using an approach involving intensive services and frequent contact (court hearings) to monitor participant progress. In this category and others, the program may provide the opportunity for charges to be reduced and/or records expunged for those participants successfully completing the program. In some cases, a “certificate of completion” or graduation ceremony is incorporated to formally acknowledge the accomplishment of participants.

Earlier this year, T2A (in partnership with the Centre for Justice Innovation) launched a new initiative to establish a network of young adult criminal courts in England and Wales. Five areas have now been selected, and it is hoped that the pilots will go live in very early 2017.