While crime committed by youth and incarceration of teens has decreased over the past 25 years, there is still a critical need for prevention and intervention initiatives, including those supported by schools, according to panelists and lawmakers speaking at a virtual hearing on juvenile justice hosted Thursday by the U.S House Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee.
"Getting all the adults in the school, the family and the community on the same page and working together, we can solve some of the most difficult problems facing our children's schools, families and communities," said Rev. Steven Boes, executive director of Boys Town in Nebraska, which provides services and research to improve youth care and health services.
Boes said Boys Town works with traditional schools by using evidence-based training models for educators, administrators and school staff. Training is focused on positive reinforcement and helping "teachers to catch kids being good."
Boys Town's model also teaches students appropriate behaviors proactively rather than relying solely on exclusionary discipline, Boes said.
Other panelists and lawmakers spoke about promising practices such as the Community Healing Initiative in Oregon's Multnomah County, which helps identify the root causes of risky youth behavior. They also highlighted the S.H.A.P.E curriculum in Tennessee's Memphis-Shelby County Schools. The six-week program is for juvenile offenders who have committed minor crimes and involves "aggression replacement training which consist of social skills, anger-control and moral reasoning," the district's website said.
The hearing's speakers agreed that holistic, community-based prevention and intervention practices built on collaboration can help reduce youth exposure to the juvenile justice system. Speakers at a May hearing in front of the same committee also touted school- or community-based youth extracurricular activities, arts programs, and career and technical education opportunities as proactive measures for juvenile justice avoidance.
But implementing proven practices into actual on-the-ground initiatives can be difficult without buy-in from stakeholders and with limited funding, some of Thursday's speakers said. In June, Bellwether Education Partners released research on juvenile justice policies in 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico that found governance, accountability and finance structures were lacking.
"If we did a better job of identifying those young people and having intensive community-based intervention and engagement with them, we could not only improve their immediate outcomes, but really reduce violence in the long term," said David Muhammad, executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.