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An Executive Summary: Rethinking Juvenile Justice

Published Dec 1, 2011, Models for Change Research Initiative

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Elizabeth S. Scott and Laurence Steinberg, leading figures in juvenile law and adolescent developmental psychology, have brought their disciplines together to define a new approach to juvenile crime. In their book, Rethinking Juvenile Justice (Harvard UniversityPress, 2008), they argue that advances in science, evolving public attitudes, and skyrocketing costs make this a prime moment for reform of the juvenile justice system. They outline a new developmental model that is complex, nuanced, and grounded inscientific evidence. It recognizes adolescents’ immaturity but also holds them accountablefor their actions, and it offers solutions that allow them to grow into responsible adults. In the end, the authors contend, this approach would better serve the interests of justice and public safety, and be less wasteful of money and lives, than either the traditional rehabilitation model or the punitive policies of the past generation.

This brief is one in a series describing new knowledge and innovations emerging from Models for Change, a multi-state juvenile justice initiative. Models for Change is accelerating movement toward a more effective, fair, and developmentally sound juvenile justice system by creating replicable models that protect community safety, use resources wisely, and improve outcomes for youths. The briefs are intended to inform professionals in juvenile justice and related fields, and to contribute to a new national wave of juvenile justice reform.

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.