Butts, Jeffrey A., Susan Mayer, and Gretchen Ruth (2005). Focusing Juvenile Justice on Positive Youth Development. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.
Juvenile justice programs are largely focused on the traditional goals of law enforcement. This issue brief examines how juvenile justice agencies might draw from the growing body of evidence on positive youth development.
One way the juvenile justice system fails to plan for average offenders is by ignoring the full range of factors that lead youth to engage in criminal behavior. Many policies and programs are plagued by what criminologists such as Terance Miethe and Robert Meier call “psychological reductionism,” or the tendency to view the causes and solutions to social problems in strictly psychological terms. Psychological reductionism in juvenile justice means that intervention programs focus on youth whose criminal behavior is believed to arise from psychological and emotional troubles. Less attention is paid to designing and evaluating interventions for youth who commit crimes for other reasons, such as a desire for social status, a fear for their personal safety, economic frustrations, negative peer associations, defiance of authority, and even simple adolescent thrill seeking. According to deviant peer studies, such as those by Gerald Patterson and his colleagues, youth who engage in criminal behavior for reasons other than psychological or emotional troubles are probably responsible for a large share of juvenile crime.