PYJ — Changing the Frame

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How should one begin to build a theoretically oriented framework for youth justice interventions using the concepts of PYJ? Practitioners have realized for some time that youth development is a compelling approach for working with youth, but the justice field has made very little progress in identifying what parts of a youth development approach are necessary in designing interventions for youthful offenders.

Practitioners attempting to incorporate PYJ concepts into justice interventions have to make many choices as they design and implement programs. Research literature and strengths-based thinking, not just the biases or self-interest of program managers and service providers, should form the basis for their decisions. How should communities identify the extent to which their existing approaches should be modified? Some current practices in youth justice may fit the PYJ Model, but others may need to be adapted or ended entirely.

Traditional juvenile justice practice is still largely based on remedial assumptions and a deficit orientation rather than a positive, strength-based orientation. How will we know when we have the right mix of resources for youth?

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Practitioners need to recognize that implementing a PYJ strategy requires significant changes in how staff and communities work with youth. The components of a PYJ-compatible system cannot be more of the same, or merely a variation on conventional services. The Positive Youth Justice Model is not a program or a set of programs, but rather a fundamentally distinctive way of viewing and responding to youth. It requires changes to the basic frame with which systems view youth. Reform efforts will not be successful if youth justice officials can simply express support for a PYJ “perspective” while continuing to conduct business as usual. One of the most important strategies for ending business as usual is to move the responsibility for supporting youth out of the justice system and into the community, through agency partnerships and innovative contracting  arrangements.