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Innovation Brief: Professional Development for Key Decision Makers in Juvenile Court: Strengthening the Juvenile-Specific Knowledge and Capabilities of Prosecutors, Defenders, and Judges

Published Dec 12, 2013, Barry Mahoney – The Justice Management Institute & Stephen Phillippi, PhD-Louisiana State University School of Public Health: Institute for Public Health & Justice

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When Louisiana began to address long-standing problems in its juvenile justice system, leaders of the reform movement recognized that engaging key juvenile court decision makers—prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges—needed to be a high priority. These law-trained professionals rarely had in-depth knowledge about adolescent development or about best practices for addressing youths’ issues and needs through research supported community-based resources. However, they are central figures in the day-to-day operations of the system. Developing their knowledge about key issues and effective practices would be critically important for the success of the juvenile justice reform initiative.

To foster professional development for judges and attorneys working in juvenile courts, Louisiana Models for Change worked collaboratively with key organizations and associations—the Louisiana Public Defender Board, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, the Louisiana District Judges Association, and the Louisiana Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges—on several key initiatives. These efforts included conducting conferences on key topics such as adolescent brain development, use of risk screening and assessment tools, and evidence-based treatment programs; drafting educational curricula and training manuals; preparing guidelines for prosecutors on use of diversion; establishing performance standards for defense attorneys handling delinquency cases; and developing a bench book for judges. The results have been promising: a continued trend away from use of secure detention and commitment, greatly expanded use of diversion and of community-based treatment programs, and broad recognition of the need for professionals working in juvenile court to have specialized knowledge about the issues encountered in working with youths.

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