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.
- The State of Juvenile Justice. Vera's DC office and CYJ convened a series of seven research-based, educational congressional briefings on adolescent brain research, the systemic causes of youth contact with the justice system, and the implications for future legal standards and best practices.
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 director, Krista Larson.
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.
Our work in New York City spans across Vera’s centers and programs. What these projects have in common is close collaboration with our partners, data and evidence-driven approaches, and recommendations that seek to improve the systems that New Yorkers rely on for public safety, justice, and human services. Although these projects take place in the unique context of New York City, they all bear important implications and lessons for jurisdictions across the country.
Vera’s Center on Youth Justice is partnering with the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections (DOC) to create a county-wide model for engaging families who are involved with the juvenile justice system. The model will support the DOC’s goal of increasing family involvement in the service of better outcomes for the youth in their system and will help create family engagement standards for counties across the country.
Vera’s Center on Youth Justice is partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to provide tailored, data-driven, and best-practice-informed training and technical assistance that will help jurisdictions improve their responses to the needs of youth engaged in status offenses—behaviors, such as running away or skipping school, which are prohibited under law only because of an person’s status as a minor. This project is complemented by additional funding from the MacArthur Foundation to support Vera’s Status Offense Reform Center (SORC).