Most youth in the juvenile justice system, even those who commit felonies, will reduce their offending over time, regardless of the intervention provided. Research suggests that longer stays in juvenile facilities – e.g., in excess of six months -- do not reduce recidivism.1 Indeed, for youth charged with the least serious acts of delinquency, incarceration may actually increase the likelihood of re-offending.2
Nonetheless, across the country, young people are often incarcerated for periods longer than six months. Many are committed to institutions for months, or even years, for minor and non-violent offenses. Many are held far from family, and in conditions that can cause trauma or exacerbate existing mental health problems. See Trauma-Informed Advocacy.
Juvenile Law Center’s work in this area, supported by the Public Welfare Foundation, aims to translate the research into better policies and practices. Working with researchers and practitioners around the country, we are developing publications that highlight promising practices to safely reduce length of stay for young people in secure confinement. Through our technical assistance, we support juvenile justice administrators, state advocates, and legislators who wish to develop policies in line with the research, and judges and lawyers who strive to change court practice on these issues. We also advocate at the federal level for policies that minimize the number of months youth can remain in secure facilities.
 Models for Change, Research on Pathways to Desistance, December, 2012 update, http://www.pathwaysstudy.pitt.edu/documents/OJJDP%20Fact%20Sheet_Pathways.pdf.
Last updated: 2/10/2005
Most youth who commit felonies greatly reduce their offending over time.
In the period after incarceration, community-based supervision is effective for youth who have committed serious offenses.
Longer stays in juvenile institutions do not reduce recidivism.
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