Futures in the Balance
Juvenile Court Often Harms Youth and Communities
The juvenile court system can be dehumanizing. Young people involved in the legal system often experience derailed futures, insufficient educational opportunities, and further traumatization. Young people in the system are often shackled, finger-printed, strip searched, and held behind bars, and lose opportunities to acquire positive identity development, autonomy, and self-worth throughout adolescence. And even after their experience in juvenile court is over, the record of their arrest, charge, and/or disposition may appear on background checks run by employers, landlords, and colleges, causing further impediments to progress. Moreover, these harsh impacts of the juvenile court system are disproportionately wielded against youth of color.
In contrast, schools provide stability, healthy relationships, and robust learning, and can promote success for all youth. Keeping young people in school and out of the legal system can categorically improve their life outcomes.
This research summary paints a striking picture of the importance of keeping youth in school and out of the juvenile court system.
Research on interventions designed to divert youth from the court system demonstrate that, for many youth, interventions that do not involve formal court or police processing are significantly more effective and deter future offending, school misconduct, school truancy, and school suspensions.
There are times when schools may feel compelled to seek assistance from other systems. However, research shows referring young people to the legal system for every incident can have a detrimental impact on them, their families, and the community at-large.
This piece provides important information about the realities of juvenile court involvement, which can put overwhelming hurdles in the way of young people’s futures. Records of arrests, charges, and/or adjudications may be available to the public and appear on background checks run by potential employers, landlords, and colleges. Additionally, young people are often required to disclose information about their involvement with the legal system on applications for employment, housing, and higher education – which may lead to them being denied these fundamental opportunities.
Examples of youth experiences illustrate how juvenile court involvement creates long-term barriers to college enrollment, meaningful employment, financial independence, stable housing, and military enlistment.
Superintendents can improve school climate for all students by addressing system policies and practices that push students out of school and into the court system. This piece provides brief descriptions of strategies outside of the legal system that can address concerns with youth behavior and of broader system reforms that support keeping youth in school and out of the legal system.
The National Juvenile Defender Center has created state-based youth and family-friendly booklets that briefly describe the long-term consequences of juvenile court involvement, such as barriers to employment, housing, and higher education. Along with other relevant resources, you can find these booklets here.
Support for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.