Dr. Jeffrey Butts, the director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, dismisses explanations based on bail reform and the rest as “self-serving law-enforcement theories.”
Policymakers, advocates, and even some researchers claim that youth confinement rates across the United States dropped in recent years due to changes in policy and practice. Such claims remain unproven, but voters and elected officials are inclined to accept them as factual because they are offered by reputable agencies and repeated in news media sources. Without reliable evidence, however, the notion that state-level youth confinement rates fall primarily in response to progressive policy reforms is merely appealing rhetoric.
Based on the latest statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the national violent crime arrest rate declined 38 percent overall between 1988 and 2018, but the steepest declines were observed among youth ages 10 to 14 (–53%) and 15 to 17 (–54%). The arrest rate for 18-20 year-olds dropped 47 percent while the arrest rates for adults ages 21-24 and 25-49 declined 42 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
We actually need young people who are bold, willing to challenge conventional thinking, and to break rules, but we also need them to respect others, to rely on logic rather than force, and to appreciate the corrosive effects of violence and exploitation. In short, our communities need powerful and creative young people who want to improve us and not simply to fight us. These should seem like obvious concepts to anyone working around the youth justice system, but it is often surprisingly difficult to implement them in practice.
This report reviews a number of prominent frameworks that are available to help youth justice systems rely on positive outcomes rather than recidivism to measure their effectiveness. These include the Developmental Assets model, the 5Cs model, the Youth Program Quality Assessment model, the Positive Youth Justice model, and the Youth Thrive framework. Each model or framework aligns with the key principles of positive youth development as well as the large body of research on desistance from crime, which is also presented in this report.