Butts, Jeffrey A. and Douglas N. Evans (2011). Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice. New York, NY: Research and Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.
As violent crime declined across the United States after 1995, the number of young offenders placed in secure correctional facilities also fell, but not in every state and not to the same degree. The crime rate and youth incarceration are not linked in the way that many people expect. Incarceration sometimes fluctuates in concert with crime rates and sometimes it does not. Often, the two diverge entirely.
The scale of incarceration is not simply a reaction to crime. It is a policy choice. Some lawmakers invest heavily in youth confinement facilities. In their jurisdictions, incarceration is a key component of the youth justice system. Other lawmakers invest more in community-based programs. In their view, costly confinement should be reserved for chronic and seriously violent offenders.
These choices are critical for budgets and for safety. If officials spend too much on incarceration, they will eventually lack the resources to operate a diversified and well-balanced justice system. Correctional institutions and the high costs associated with incarceration will begin to dominate fiscal and programmatic decision making.
A number of states recognized this problem as early as the 1960s and 1970s. In California, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, legislators and administrators created innovative policies to reduce the demand for expensive state confinement and to supervise as many young offenders as possible in their own communities. During the 1990s, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon implemented similar reforms.
The reform strategies adopted by these states are known by different names, but they generally rely on three sources of influence: resolution (direct managerial influence over system behavior); reinvestment (financial incentives to change system behavior); and realignment (organizational and structural modifications to alter system behavior).
This report reviews the history and development of these strategies and analyzes their impact on policy, practice, and public safety.
All three strategies have been used effectively to reform juvenile justice systems, but this report suggests that realignment may be the best choice for sustaining reform over the long term. Reform strategies in juvenile justice are sustainable when they cannot be easily reversed by future policymakers facing different budgetary conditions and changing political environments.