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Juvenile justice


There has been a troubling shift in the nation’s responses to at-risk youth over the past 25 years. The creators of the juvenile justice system originally viewed it as a system for providing prevention, protection, and redirection to youth, but it is more common for juveniles today to experience tough sanctions and adult-type punishments instead. While reforms are underway in many places, there remains an urgent need to reframe our responses to juvenile delinquency.

Juveniles Held in Adults Prisons and Jails

Juvenile Justice News
December 19, 2014
State Advocacy Update: Addressing Racially Disparate Criminal Justice Policies and More

Approaches to Address Racial Disparity

Local Policy Interventions

Advocating to Fund Effective Alternatives


December 11, 2014
Senators Grassley and Whitehouse Introduce Juvenile Justice Bill

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).  The Grassley-Whitehouse bill would modernize America’s justice system with evidence-based practices for handling troubled youth and provide the federal leadership to promote effective juvenile justice systems. The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2007 but has not been substantively revised since 2002.

“Under this bill, states and local jurisdictions will make measurable, positive differences in the lives of youth who encounter the juvenile justice system, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project. “Recent events remind us that efforts toward racial justice are not nearly finished, but this bill moves us closer.”

In 2011, almost 1.5 million American youth were arrested, 95 percent of them for non-violent offenses.


December 9, 2014
The Sentencing Project Submits Recommendations to D.C.’s Mayor-Elect

Following her election as Washington, D.C.’s new mayor, Muriel Bowser has sought public input on important issues facing the District. The Sentencing Project submitted four recommendations for juvenile justice reform:

  • Make aggregate juvenile arrest data available and transparent;
  • Limit the use of arrest for low-level offenses;
  • Prioritize evidence-based programs, and not incarceration, for delinquent youth; and
  • Keep juveniles out of the adult system.

The full testimony can be read here.


December 3, 2014
Race and Justice News

Policing: African Americans Experience Disproportionate Police Contact Across U.S.

Marijuana Reforms: Will Decriminialization and Legalization End Racially Disparate Enforcement?

State Punitiveness: Black Population Size Predicts State Punitiveness

Legislative Reforms: Crack Sentencing and the Felony Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits


November 25, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
The Sentencing Project on the Tragedy in Ferguson

The tragic death of Michael Brown and the subsequent developments in Ferguson are cause for great concern. The outpouring of emotion following the decision of the grand jury to not issue an indictment is a strong statement of the degree to which the circumstances surrounding this death have touched people and resonated with profound feelings about race and the justice system.

We have been here before. The recent cases of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, as well as Rodney King and the Jena 6, have animated ongoing conversations about race and justice. In many ways these dialogues are constructive, but we must do more than engage in rhetoric on a case-by-case basis.

Perceptions of unfairness in the justice system undermine confidence in the system in communities of color, which in turns harms approaches to public safety. Interventions can be adopted to address structural problems that plague the nation’s criminal justice system. In recent years there has been modest progress: documentation of racial profiling has resulted in changes in policy and practice in many jurisdictions; sentencing reforms at the state and federal level have scaled back excessive penalties applied disproportionately to people of color; and in both the adult and juvenile justice systems, the number of incarcerated African Americans has declined modestly in recent years.

Even so, we still are faced with a society and a criminal justice system in which one of every three African American men, and one of every six Hispanic men, can expect to go to prison in his lifetime if current trends continue. Dispelling the illusion that the American justice system is colorblind is a crucial step in addressing racial disparities. A shameful truth is that too often, there is a different criminal justice system for whites and blacks, and for the wealthy and the poor. These circumstances are unconscionable and can only be addressed through continuing and comprehensive change.

At The Sentencing Project, we are proud to be among organizations and individuals working towards reform and racial justice. The recent events remind us of the importance of engaging in these struggles. We welcome your active collaboration with us in the weeks and months ahead.