The National Juvenile Justice Action Plan: A Comprehensive Response to a Critical Challenge
by Sarah Ingersoll

"More and more of our Nation's children are killing and dying. The only way we can break the cycle of violence is through a truly national effort implemented one community at a time. Everyone has a role -- businesses, schools, universities, and especially parents. Every community and every citizen can find practical steps in the Action Plan to do something now about youth violence."

Attorney General Janet Reno

On the heels of the crack epidemic, the Nation has witnessed the drive-by murder of a 3-year-old girl playing in the wrong place at the wrong time, a 12-year-old boy caught in a deadly feud over drug turf, and a homeless man set on fire in the subway by boys who should have been in school. Lurid headlines have captured the public's attention as youth violence takes center stage in the domestic debate.

Responses to these events have been as swift as they have been varied, but often they are reactions to a crisis rather than solutions based on analysis.

A Comprehensive Plan
In 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno convened the first meeting of the restructured Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which comprises nine juvenile justice practitioners and representatives from the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ), Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Treasury, and Education (ED); the Office of National Drug Control Policy; and the Corporation for National Service. The Attorney General charged the Council to create an agenda to reduce youth violence. Combating Violence and Delinquency: The National Juvenile Justice Action Plan (Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1996) is the Council's call to action.

Drawing on decades of research, previously summarized in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP's) Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders (Wilson and Howell, 1993), the Action Plan encourages helping youth throughout their development while responding to juvenile crime in a way that ensures public safety. The Coordinating Council calls on citizens to work together to advance the Action Plan's eight key objectives to combat youth violence:

Bullet Provide immediate intervention and appropriate sanctions and treatment for delinquent juveniles.
Bullet Prosecute certain serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders in criminal court.
Bullet Reduce youth involvement with guns, drugs, and gangs.
Bullet Break the cycle of violence by addressing youth victimization, abuse, and neglect.
Bullet Strengthen and mobilize communities.
Bullet Support the development of innovative approaches to research and evaluation.
Bullet Implement an aggressive public outreach campaign on effective strategies to combat juvenile violence.

OJJDP is working to implement the Action Plan through a coordinated initiative of demonstration grants, training and technical assistance, research and evaluation programs, and information dissemination activities. The following examples demonstrate the scope of these initiatives.

Strengthening the Juvenile Justice System
Attaining the first objective of the Action Plan requires strengthening the Nation's juvenile justice system. Through Formula Grants, Title V Community Prevention Grants, and State Challenge Grants, OJJDP provides States with funds to plan and implement comprehensive State and local programs to prevent and control delinquency and enhance the effective operation of the juvenile justice system.

In five program sites, OJJDP is demonstrating the graduated sanctions approach that is part of the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. OJJDP is also supporting development of a stronger juvenile justice system through the SafeFutures Program; developing, testing, and expanding model juvenile community assessment centers; and promoting statewide adoption of the Comprehensive Strategy through intensive technical assistance and training in Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Texas.

In addition, OJJDP is training juvenile justice system personnel to implement the balanced and restorative justice model. Restorative justice holds the offender responsible for making restitution to the victim and restoring the state of well-being that existed in the community before the offense. The balanced approach also suggests that the juvenile justice system improve the ability of offenders to pursue legitimate endeavors after their release. Training and technical assistance are also being provided to probation officers and juvenile justice practitioners to enable them to establish restitution and community service programs. States interested in juvenile code reforms that reflect the balanced and restorative justice model are also receiving training and technical assistance. By the end of 1995, at least 24 States had adopted, or were examining, codes or procedures incorporating the concepts of balanced and restorative justice.

Prosecuting Serious, Violent, and Chronic Offenders
The second objective of the Action Plan addresses how to deal with juvenile offenders whose offenses, or offense history and failure to respond to treatment, merit criminal prosecution. In recent years, no other juvenile justice policy has received more legislative attention or yielded such a multitude of different approaches for dealing with serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders.

OJJDP has published a research summary of legislative changes taking place across the country between 1992 and 1995. National Conference of State Legislatures to help improve State juvenile justice systems by providing State legislators and staff with the latest research, effective State policies, and model responses to youth violence through both publications and intensive training.

With each new legislative debate regarding new provisions, State legislators and criminal justice officials are faced with a lack of reliable current information on the effectiveness of newly adopted laws and policies. To address this information gap, OJJDP is currently funding three studies in Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah to determine the outcome and impact of waiver and transfer provisions on juvenile offenders under varying legal and administrative configurations. The research will control for the presenting offense, offense history, and offender's age and will include the kind of case attribute information that is often missing from studies in this subject area.

The studies are being done collaboratively. Universities and research organizations are teaming up with key State and local criminal justice agencies to answer critical questions about the process, impact, and comparative effectiveness of new strategies. Two of the current studies involve replication and expansion of prior research and will provide information on differences in processing and outcome in the strategies of the 1980's compared with those of the 1990's; another looks at long-term trends.

All of the studies have gone beyond the limited data routinely available in automated record systems to study in greater detail critical aspects related to offenses, such as the offender's role in the commission of the crime, harm to the victim, and involvement of drugs or guns in the offense. It is hoped that more indepth characterization of cases will reveal patterns in the determinations made by prosecutors and judges to transfer a juvenile to criminal court for prosecution.

One of the goals of the research program is to explore the possibility of developing a system to collect routine information from a broader range of sources on the processing, outcomes, and impacts of criminal prosecution nationally. Researchers from all sites will collaborate to produce a cross-jurisdictional comparison of critical dimensions of the process.

In addition to these studies, OJJDP and the Bureau of Justice Statistics will be funding State-initiated studies of juvenile transfers through the State Justice Statistics Program for Statistical Analysis Centers in fiscal year 1997.

Targeting Guns, Drugs, and Gangs
Objective three of the Action Plan also identifies programmatic and strategic prevention, intervention, and suppression activities that target three critical areas affecting juvenile violence -- guns, drugs, and gangs.

PhotoGuns. From 1985 to 1992, the number of homicides committed by juveniles with firearms more than doubled. Under Partnerships To Reduce Juvenile Gun Violence, OJJDP is funding four initiatives -- one in California, two in Louisiana, and one in New York -- that are linking community mobilization efforts with law enforcement to address this problem. An evaluation of the Partnerships effort is also being sponsored by OJJDP. In addition, OJJDP has held a national satellite teleconference on programs designed to reduce youth gun violence. The teleconference, which is available on videotape from OJJDP's Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, was viewed by approximately 8,130 people at 271 downlink sites.

Drugs. In response to an increase in drug use by young people, OJJDP is administering the $1 million Youth Substance Use Prevention Grant Program of the President's Crime Prevention Council, which will support 10 community-based, youth-led prevention initiatives. OJJDP is also funding an evaluation of the program that will build local program grantees' capacity for designing, implementing, and interpreting evaluations; determine whether youth-led delinquency and substance use prevention activities have a greater impact on youth than adult-led prevention activities; and define the elements critical to implementing a successful youth-led prevention activity. OJJDP is also continuing to fund the Community Anti-Drug Abuse Technical Assistance Voucher project and the Congress of National Black Churches' National Anti-Drug/Violence Campaign -- programs that help grassroots organizations and churches address juvenile drug abuse.

The Race Against Drugs Program is a unique drug awareness, education, and prevention campaign implemented with the help and assistance of 23 motor sports organizations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Navy, and others. OJJDP is also working with the American Probation and Parole Association to train and help juvenile justice practitioners identify and treat drug-involved youth. OJJDP held a national satellite teleconference on preventing drug abuse among youth that was viewed by approximately 10,000 people at 300 downlink sites. (To obtain a videotape of this teleconference, see order form)

Gangs. OJJDP is implementing and testing a research-driven, community-based approach to suppressing, intervening in, and preventing gang violence through its Comprehensive Response to America's Youth Gang Problem Initiative. Five jurisdictions experiencing an emerging or chronic gang problem (Mesa and Tucson, Arizona; Riverside, California; Bloomington, Illinois; and San Antonio, Texas) have been funded under this initiative to implement the comprehensive model for 3 years. OJJDP has established the National Youth Gang Center to promote effective and innovative strategies, Photo collect and analyze statistical data on gangs, analyze gang legislation, and review gang literature. OJJDP also funded Boys & Girls Clubs of America gang- prevention programs that have reached 6,000 youth at risk for gang involvement. OJJDP has also established the interagency, public/private Gang Consortium as part of the Comprehensive Response initiative. The Consortium seeks to facilitate and expand ongoing coordination activities and enhance youth gang prevention, intervention, and suppression policies and activities, including information exchange and technical assistance services provided by the many Federal agencies with program emphasis on youth gangs and related problems. OJJDP's national satellite teleconference on strategies to prevent, intervene in, and suppress juvenile gang violence was viewed by approximately 17,000 people at 635 downlink sites. (To obtain a videotape of this teleconference, see order form)

Enhancing Opportunities for Youth
Objective four of the Action Plan calls for the Nation to provide positive opportunities for youth. Research demonstrates that mentoring, afterschool activities, conflict resolution programs, remedial education, and vocational training can prevent young people from becoming delinquents. OJJDP is actively disseminating a variety of research-based documents. Delinquency Prevention Works (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995a) and the Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders (Howell, 1995) both offer many examples of effective prevention and intervention programs. Other helpful publications are the Photo OJJDP Bulletins in the Youth Development Series, which OJJDP created this year to present findings from the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency, a longitudinal research program studying 4,000 young people in Denver, Colorado; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Rochester, New York. Series titles developed thus far are Epidemiology of Serious Violence (Kelley et al., 1997), Gang Members and Delinquent Behavior (Thornberry and Burch, 1997), and In the Wake of Childhood Maltreatment (Kelley et al., 1997). In addition, OJJDP has published a number of individual Bulletins on specific promising programs, including Allegheny County, PA: Mobilizing To Reduce Juvenile Crime (Hsia, 1997), Treating Serious Anti-Social Behavior in Youth: The MST Approach (Henggeler, 1997), and Mentoring -- A Proven Delinquency Prevention Strategy (Grossman and Garry, 1997).

DOJ is also funding expanded opportunities for youth and training for youth service professionals. Boys & Girls Clubs have provided afterschool activities that have increased school attendance, improved academic performance, and reduced the juvenile crime rate in high-risk neighborhoods. In addition to funding the Law-Related Education Program and the Teens, Crime, and the Community Initiative, which involves young people in community safety efforts, OJJDP has provided professional development training for youth workers and programmatic support to 93 mentoring programs funded under the Juvenile Mentoring Program (JUMP). A recent national evaluation of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America mentoring program found that the young people involved in this program were 46 percent less likely to start using drugs, 33 percent less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior, and 27 percent less likely to start using alcohol than their peers. Mentoring is a component of OJJDP's SafeFutures initiative, which assists communities in combating delinquency by developing a full range of coordinated services. In addition to JUMP and SafeFutures, OJJDP supports more than 90 mentoring efforts in individual States through its Formula Grants Program (Grossman and Garry, 1997). OJJDP recently held a national satellite teleconference on mentoring. (To obtain a videotape of this teleconference, see order form.)

Addressing conflict resolution programming in schools, the community, and juvenile justice settings, a 1995 OJJDP satellite teleconference provided more than 10,000 participants with information on conflict resolution programs that have reduced the number of violent juvenile acts, decreased the number of chronic school absences, reduced the number of disciplinary referrals and suspensions, and expanded classroom instruction. These conflict resolution programs and approaches are described in Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Organizations, and Community and Juvenile Justice Settings (Crawford and Bodine, 1996), published by OJJDP and ED's Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. OJJDP has funded a training and technical assistance program that supports the implementation of conflict resolution efforts at the local level.

Supported by OJJDP in collaboration with the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce, and Defense, the Communities In Schools dropout-prevention program has reached more than 97,000 youth and their families, increased students' likelihood of attending and staying in school, and improved their academic performance. OJJDP and ED have also funded the National School Safety Center to focus attention on the problems of youth who do not attend school regularly because they are truants or dropouts, are afraid to attend school, have been suspended or expelled, or are in need of help to be reintegrated into mainstream schools after spending time in juvenile detention and correctional settings. Four forums on Youth Out of the Education Mainstream were held in summer 1996 to highlight effective and promising programs. Intensive training and technical assistance are being delivered to 10 sites to implement comprehensive approaches to this problem.

Breaking the Cycle of Violence
In 1995, child protective service agencies investigated an estimated 2 million reports alleging the mistreatment of almost 3 million children (National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1997). Studies show that childhood abuse and neglect increase a child's odds of future delinquency and adult criminality. Data from the Rochester Youth Development Study (RYDS) show that self-reports of youth violence increased with exposure to more types of family violence. RYDS is one of three coordinated, longitudinal research projects of OJJDP's Causes and Correlates Program, the largest shared-measurement approach ever achieved in delinquency research.

PhotoThe fifth objective of the Action Plan, therefore, challenges us to eliminate the disturbing cycle of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and youth violence. OJJDP is collaborating with other bureaus in the Office of Justice Programs to support Safe Kids/Safe Streets: Community Approaches to Reducing Abuse and Neglect and Preventing Delinquency. This initiative is designed to help youth at risk for abuse and neglect and their families, to encourage communities to strengthen the response of their criminal and juvenile justice systems to child abuse and neglect, and to enhance system coordination with child and family service agencies. Five communities (Huntsville, Alabama; the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri; Toledo, Ohio; and Chittenden County, Vermont) have been selected for funding under the Safe Kids/Safe Streets Program. The funding agencies are also sponsoring an evaluation of the program.

In addition, OJJDP is working with the Executive Office for Weed and Seed and HHS to implement the David Olds Nurse Home Visitation Program in six sites. Six hundred low-income, first-time mothers (some of whom are drug addicts) and their babies will be served through this prenatal and early childhood home-visitation program. Through home visits in the first 2 years of a child's life, program nurses work intensively with new mothers to improve key aspects of health and early child development and strengthen the mother's parenting and vocational skills.

In October 1995, OJJDP entered into a 3-year cooperative agreement for a project called Training and Technical Assistance for Family Strengthening, which is being implemented by the University of Utah, Department of Health Education, in Salt Lake City. This project allows the university to continue work it has been conducting since 1990 to identify the most effective family programs for the prevention of delinquency. This project is designed to help close the gap between the state of research and the state of practice in family-focused prevention. The university will synthesize and disseminate information about model family strengthening programs through training and technical assistance and the development of written materials.

OJJDP is also funding the Yale/New Haven Child Development-Community Policing (CD-CP) Program to engage community police and mental health professionals in addressing the psychological burdens of increasing levels of community violence on children, families, and communities. The CD-CP Program, a collaborative effort of the New Haven (Connecticut) Department of Police Services and the Child Study Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, serves as a national model for police-mental health partnerships (Marans and Berkman, 1997).

In addition, OJJDP is sponsoring four regional children's advocacy centers to coordinate the response of judicial and social service systems to child abuse. The regional centers act as clearinghouses, distributing resource materials and other tools, providing training and technical assistance, and facilitating information sharing. OJJDP supports the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association, some 700 communities have established court appointed special advocate (CASA) programs providing volunteers to serve as advocates in court proceedings for victims of child abuse (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1997).

Putting the Plan Into Action
The remaining objectives of the Action Plan focus on mobilizing communities, engaging a variety of disciplines to ensure that research serves as the foundation of program activities, and conducting an outreach campaign on effective strategies to combat juvenile violence.

OJJDP is helping communities mobilize to prevent juvenile delinquency and transferring the research base on the causes and correlates of delinquency through the Title V Community Prevention Grants. These grants have been distributed to 49 States, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia. Nearly 4,000 participants have been trained in risk- and protective-factor-focused delinquency prevention, and 3-year Community Prevention Grants have been awarded to approximately 400 communities. OJJDP's Title V Delinquency Prevention Program Community Self-Evaluation Workbook (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995b) is helping communities evaluate their progress and results under this program.

In partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, OJJDP will be providing additional information on strategies that work through a public information campaign. Using the Comprehensive Strategy and Action Plan as guides, community leaders and other concerned citizens will have access to information on effective delinquency prevention; gang, gun, and drug violence reduction; and juvenile justice reform strategies and programs.

Through its Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, OJJDP annually distributes more than 2 million copies of Reports, Summaries, Bulletins, Fact Sheets, and other publications providing research findings and program information. OJJDP publications are available through a toll-free telephone line, and by mail, fax, and the Internet. OJJDP also continues to present national satellite teleconferences on key juvenile justice issues and is currently completing production of an interactive CD-ROM on effective prevention and intervention programs. Information about these services and activities can be obtained by calling the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, toll free, at 800-638-8736.

Deterring delinquency and reducing youth violence require a substantial, sustained investment of financial and human resources by both the public and private sectors. If this Nation truly intends to ensure public safety and reduce youth violence and victimization, it must make a greater commitment to a juvenile justice system that holds juvenile offenders immediately accountable (before they become hardened criminals) and responds appropriately to the issues that bring young people to the courtroom in the first place. All young people should be guaranteed the opportunity to be healthy, safe, and able to learn in school and to engage in positive, productive activities. This requires the targeted and coordinated use of new and existing resources. The research-based goals and objectives of the Action Plan and the model established by OJJDP's Comprehensive Strategy can be successfully implemented, but only if a long-term commitment is made to work together to achieve them.

Article References

Sarah Ingersoll is a Special Assistant to the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.


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