The Urban Institute, in conjunction with the Youth First Initiative, unveiled a new report today (March 27) titled ”Promoting A New Direction for Youth Justice,” which outlines practical, community-based strategies for reforming the juvenile justice system.

It highlights communities of color that, although they are disproportionately affected by youth incarceration, are investing in programs that can change the trajectory of young lives. The authors point to enrichment opportunities like mentoring programs, family therapy, access to healthcare, violence prevention and community centers as ways to promote healthy development of children.

This research also stresses the importance of involving community members in deciding where resources are most needed. From the report:

Involving youth and families in decision making helps ensure that those most directly impacted by the system play a role in shaping better policy, as well as increasing fairness and the efficient use of resources. Localities have used a wide range of strategies to engage youth, families and community members in discussions around justice investments and formalize and prioritize their input into surveys, town halls, focus groups and participatory budgeting. 

“Now is the time to end our reliance on youth incarceration and instead invest in community-based solutions which we know work better,” said Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Youth First Initiative, in an emailed statement about the report’s findings. “We have long had the research that shows incarceration does more to hurt justice-involved youth than help. Now, we have the strategies and success stories to show how community-based care is not just possible but a winning strategy for communities and kids most affected by the youth justice system.”

A poll released by Youth First Initiative on March 18 shows most Americans fully support the idea of reforming the youth justice system, with a focus on rehabilitation. Dr. Samantha Harvell, one of report’s authors at the Urban Institute says people are hungry for this type of change. “Communities across the country are increasingly embracing community-based strategies to prevent and address harmful youth behaviors and looking for ways to fund them,” she said in the above statement. “This report offers a menu of options that jurisdictions have used to fund community-based public safety solutions and covers a range of innovative ideas, from redirecting savings from youth prison reduction to levying a new tax.”

You can read the entire report here.