PYJ — Medal Winning Programs

The Research & Evaluation Center has recognized a number of intervention and prevention programs as models of the Positive Youth Justice concept based on their service orientation, intervention strategies, and the quality and consistency of their implementation.

In many cases, the staff of John Jay College visited the program, interviewed staff, and reviewed program operations. In others, the selection of the program is based on the program’s own materials and publications, including websites. Ideally, the identification of quality programs would be based on detailed evaluation findings, but some of the best youth justice programs have yet to be evaluated using using rigorous methods. Until they are, the Research & Evaluation Center recommends these models for further support and investigation.

Medals are awarded in two categories: Silver and Gold.


Silver Medal programs operate in ways that are consistent with the science of adolescent development. Although they may not be focused directly and exclusively on preventing youthful offending, the staff members rely on developmental principles to work with at-risk and disconnected youth. Silver Medal programs tend to have the following characteristics:

  • The program environment is developmentally appropriate in that it offers safety, support, and opportunities for youth to develop new skills, engage with pro-social adults, and expand their exercise of personal responsibility.
  • The program staff works actively to avoid the use of negative labels and coercion.
  • The program structure incorporates escalating rewards and opportunities for youth engagement.
  • Program staff meet youth “where they are” developmentally and begin with the assumption that youth are competent and capable of exercising responsibility.
  • Youth have ample opportunities to build new skills and to use them to advance not only their own learning but also to benefit the larger group or community.
  • Whenever possible,  youth activities involve tangible rewards or compensation, even paid work.
  • The goal of adult leadership is always to hand over leadership to youth themselves as soon as practical.
  • The fundamental purpose of setting goals for youth is to facilitate success, not to punish failure.
  • The program avoids challenging and testing youth needlessly. Before offering opportunities to youth, the program first prepares them to succeed in those opportunities.
  • If youth are engaged in educational activities, the program ensures that trained teachers are involved and that youth receive legitimate academic credit.


In addition to these features, Gold Medal programs are designed with high levels of integrity and theoretical compatibility with the science of adolescent development, and they were explicitly designed to prevent and reduce youth offending. Moreover, these programs maintain a consistent level of investment in research and evaluation that is designed to build evidence of effectiveness. They operate as learning organizations and show a willingness to experiment and innovate. They also ensure that their basic activities are monitored and measured in order to assess their effects.