Center on Youth Justice

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) works with policymakers and practitioners who want juvenile justice to be rooted in the community, more effective, and smaller in scale, touching the lives of fewer children.

CYJ’s core values and areas of work with juvenile justice systems include:

Narrowing the net:

Far too many children who have not committed crimes or have committed low-level offenses can become entangled within a juvenile justice system ill-equipped to effectively address their needs. CYJ helps narrow the net by reducing the involvement of non-delinquent youth in the juvenile justice system and ensuring that youth who are charged with delinquency offenses are treated in a developmentally-appropriate manner. 

  • Status Offenders. Youth that commit “status offenses” like truancy, running away from home, and other behaviors prohibited due to their age too often end up in front of a judge. Our Status Offense Reform Center provides states and localities with resources and guidance on how to reform existing practices to ensure that these young people and their families receive the resources and support they need, outside of the justice system.
  • Stop, Question, and Frisk. Our study of young people in five highly-patrolled neighborhoods provides a first-ever look at how frequently youth are stopped, questioned, and frisked by police, and how these interactions influence their views of the police, their neighborhoods, and themselves, and may adversely affect public safety by lowering trust in law enforcement.
  • Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction. We provide technical assistance and research support to states to safely bring all justice-involved youth under the jurisdiction of the juvenile, rather than adult, justice system.

Serving children within communities:

CYJ helps juvenile justice systems adapt so that youth are supervised and receive services in their own communities.

  • Detention as a Last Resort. We help practitioners develop and implement risk assessment tools to limit the use of pre-trial detention to only those youth who pose a measurable and significant risk to public safety.
  • Alternative Sentencing. CYJ assists jurisdictions in implementing structured and objective sentencing processes that emphasize alternatives to “placement” (prison in the adult context) that are more effective and less costly.
  • Success in the Community. We help practitioners and policymakers design and implement strategies for supporting system-involved youth in the community and as they return home from incarceration.

Cultivating a new kind of secure facility:

  • CYJ participates in the redesign of secure care facilities so that they facilitate meaningful change among youth in placement, provide them with robust education and career opportunities, foster family engagement, and are located near youths’ home communities.

Across these areas of focus, CYJ’s knowledge of and experience with juvenile justice systems allows it to uncover and help to remedy policies and practices that disproportionately harm youth of color by increasing their likeli­hood of contact with the juvenile justice system.

Why we do this work?

Less than a generation ago, juvenile justice policy in America was shaped by fear of young people and a drive to punish. A census in 1995 counted more than 100,000 children in the U.S. living in locked facilities, often far from their families. Since then, a wave of reforms swept the country. In 2010, the same census documented roughly 70,000 juveniles in custody—still a large number, but a clear sign of a changing trend. In spite of the positive trend, however, many juvenile justice systems continue to focus on punishment instead of treatment, expose youth to inhumane conditions that are unsuitable to their healthy development, and disproportionately subject youth of color to these injustices.  Vera’s Center on Youth Justice combines research, planning, and technical assistance with expertise to help government partners and community justice stakeholders tackle tough issues and achieve safe and positive outcomes for children, communities, and society.

For more information about the Center on Youth Justice, contact the center coordinator, Insiyah Mohammad.


Developing Tools to Support NYC's Close to Home Initiative

In April 2012, New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) contracted with Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) to create tools to assist implementation of the state’s new Close to Home Initiative. CYJ will develop a risk-classification tool and an intake-matching form that will guide the placement of youth found guilty of a juvenile delinquency charge in local, privately run facilities

Expanding Data Capacity to Study NYC's "Close to Home" Initiative and other Juvenile Justice Practices

In an effort to better monitor the services and programs provided to youth after a court’s disposition (sentence), the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) contracted with Vera’s Center on Youth Justice to expand the capacity of the city’s Juvenile Justice Database (JJDB), a resource designed and managed by Vera that draws on data from multiple agencies to track cases from arrest through disposition.

Improving Dispositional Options for Youth in NYC: A Planning Project with the NYC Department of Probation

Vera, in collaboration with NYC’s Department of Probation, will conduct a four-month, three-phase project to study current dispositional service gaps for high-needs youth who are placed in residential facilities due to a lack of community alternatives, survey the landscape of national best practices and locally available services, and propose and operationally define locally appropriate and data informed strategies for addressing the issue.

Improving Juvenile Sentencing Recommendations in NYC

Since 2010, with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice has provided research support and technical assistance to the New York City Department of Probation (DOP) to plan juvenile sentencing (dispositional) reforms with the goal of minimizing the number of young people removed from their homes following a finding of guilt.

New York State Juvenile Reentry Consortium

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) will be the facilitator and technical assistance provider for the New York State Juvenile Reentry Consortium, a group of counties that will work collaboratively to improve reentry planning, coordination, and services for youth returning from a period of post-sentencing confinement in private, voluntary residential care facilities. The initiative is funded by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

OCFS Secure Placement Reform

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) is assisting the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) with its effort to reform the secure placement system for young people, families, and communities in New York State. Specifically, CYJ is conducting a review and assessment of the current secure placement system, assisting OCFS in collaborating with stakeholders, and developing a vision for the system that will guide OCFS’ reform work.

Outcome Evaluation of the Multi-Agency Resource Center in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana

In 2012, Vera began conducting an outcome evaluation of Calcasieu Parish’s (Louisiana) Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC), a one-stop shop that offers same-day intake, immediate assessment, and service referral for youth and families in crisis. Vera researchers are assessing the quality of service matches, speed of case processing, and social service and criminal justice outcomes for youth assessed at the MARC. The project is supported by the MacArthur Foundation, as part of its Models for Change initiative.

PathNet: Helping At-Risk Kids Stay in School and Avoid Justice System Contact in King County, Washington

With funding from the MacArthur Foundation as part of its Models for Change initiative, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) provided technical assistance and research support to King County, Washington to monitor and tailor its PathNet initiative, an integrated “path of networked community organizations” working to prevent system-involved youth from dropping out of school.

School-to-Prison Pipeline Study

Through a grant from the Spencer Foundation, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) is studying how school disciplinary practices—in particular zero-tolerance policies—and other aspects of school climate affect juveniles. The study aims to contribute evidence-based analysis to the public debate over whether harsh school disciplinary protocols push youth toward antisocial and criminal behavior and justice system involvement—a trajectory known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Status Offense Reform Center

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice launched the online Status Offense Reform Center to help jurisdictions rethink and reform their approach to working with youth charged with status offenses. Disobedient but not delinquent, these young people have engaged in behaviors that are prohibited under law only because of their age, such as skipping school, running away, or violating curfew, raising the concern of the adults in their lives. A member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Resource Center Partnership, the center serves as a one-stop shop of information and practical guidance for policymakers and practitioners interested in preventing youth who engage in problematic but noncriminal behavior, such as truancy or running away, from entering the juvenile justice system and providing them with services and supports in the community better suited to meet their needs.

Stop, Question, and Frisk Study

The Stop, Question, and Frisk study examines the impact of the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) stop, question, and frisk policies and practices on young people and families in the most highly patrolled areas in New York City.

Supporting the NYC Department of Probation's Efforts to Address Disproportionate Minority Contact

With funding from the Prospect Hill Foundation, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) is supporting the New York City Department of Probation (DOP) in its efforts to address disproportionate minority contact (DMC) at the point of adjustment—the diversion of juvenile delinquency cases from formal case processing.

Sustaining Juvenile Detention Reform in NYC

With support from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) partnered with New York City’s Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator and juvenile justice stakeholders to help the city sustain and monitor its juvenile detention reforms.

Youth Futures: Workforce Development and Educational Support to System-Involved Youth

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) will serve as the coordinator for Youth Futures, a new multi-site program aimed at improving the long-term employment prospects of at-risk and justice-involved youth living in, or returning to high-crime, high-poverty communities in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and through collaborative partnerships with non-profit organizations in each city, Youth Futures will prepare program participants for success in the labor market by providing comprehensive, individualized case management services linked to workforce development and educational interventions, supports, and training programs.

Innovations in NYC Health and Human Services Policy: The Close to Home Initiative and Related Reforms in Juvenile Justice
Guided by research indicating that community-based alternatives are often more effective and less expensive and stigmatizing than placing juvenile offenders in institutional facilities, New York City has worked to reduce over-reliance on such dispositions and to ensure that those youth that may be...
Innovations in NYC Health and Human Services Policy: Juvenile Detention Reform
When New York City began reforming its juvenile detention system in 2006, youth were either sent to detention or released into the community with no formal supervision. The reform effort had the complementary goals of ensuring that costly juvenile detention beds would be reserved primarily for...
A Generation Later: What We've Learned about Zero Tolerance in Schools
Zero tolerance discipline policies that mandate suspension or expulsion of students for misconduct have gained tremendous momentum over the past 25 years while also inviting deep controversy. With A Generation Later: What We’ve Learned about Zero Tolerance in Schools, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice...
From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses
Young people who run away from home, skip school, or engage in other risky behaviors that are only prohibited because of their age end up in courtrooms every year by the thousands. Responding to these cases, called “status offenses,” in the juvenile justice system can lead to punitive outcomes that...
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When friends and family who work in different fields ask me to describe Vera’s work in youth justice, they are inevitably perplexed when I first mention our status offense reform efforts. “Status offenses? Never heard of them.” But if I go on to...
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Every year, thousands of young people end up in courtrooms because they ran away from home, skipped school, or engaged in other risky behaviors that are not criminal in nature and only prohibited because of their ages. Responding to these cases,...
Jennifer Fratello
Co-Interim Director, Center on Youth Justice and Research Director, Center on Youth Justice and Prosecution and Racial Justice Program
Theresa Sgobba
Co-Interim Director and Associate Director, Center on Youth Justice
Vidhya Ananthakrishnan
Project Director, Center on Youth Justice
Jennifer L. Jensen
Senior Research Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Jacob Kang-Brown
Research Associate
Vincent Lau
Research Analyst, Center on Youth Justice
Sydney McKinney
Research Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Alessandra Meyer
Senior Program Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Insiyah Mohammad
Center Coordinator, Center on Youth Justice
Paula Mukwaya
Program Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Chansi Powell
Senior Program Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Brenda J. Velazquez
Senior Research Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Nick Wical
Research Associate, Center on Youth Justice