Despite a sustained effort to study these policies over the last two decades, researchers have not found that increasing prosecutorial power reduces crime, and the practice of putting young people in the adult criminal justice system is not only ineffective, it has many negative side effects.
Researching the effectiveness of social policies is like pointing a flashlight inside a dark room. You can can only see what passes through the beam of light.
All researchers want their studies to have an impact on policy and practice, but few do. It’s often the researcher’s own fault — at least in part. Here are some basic strategies for increasing the chances that your research will have an effect.
Adolescence does not end with a single birthday and it lasts well beyond the point of legal adulthood. Our science-blind courts have yet to accept this fact.
Jeffrey Butts answers 20 key questions about the U.S. juvenile justice system.
If our goal is to mitigate whatever factors are most likely to draw young people into contact with the justice system, the interventions we provide should reflect what we know about adolescents and the conditions facing young people in the United States today.
Equating the deepest end of juvenile justice with “the system” distorts the significance of whatever problems affect the youth in secure care. Young people in secure facilities represent a small proportion of the entire youthful offender population.
Even if we observe a number of instances when state reforms are followed by lower incarceration, we have to test whether the causal hypothesis holds up in the absence of reform? If we lined up all the states according to whether they had enacted meaningful reforms in their juvenile justice systems, would their incarceration trends line up in the same way, with high reform states showing more decline and low reform states showing less? Moreover, does the relationship persist over time and under varying circumstances?
As we celebrate falling incarceration numbers, those of us who work in juvenile justice should take a few moments to contemplate the true origins of the decline. We venture onto thin ice — empirically — if we conclude that incarceration is down because of changes in practice and policy.