June 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA5

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Implications for Extension Educators Regarding the Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system, which requires the state to function as a parent in meeting the needs of youth, has more obscure goals than its criminal justice counterpart. Several national-level panels have made recommendations on improving of the juvenile justice system and minimizing inequities. This synthesis combines individual panel recommendations on the topic of juvenile justice with recent empirical research that supports the recommendations. The data should be useful to national, state, and local elected officials and policy makers.

Laura Filbert
Teaching Assistant
University of Missouri-Columbia
Columbia, Missouri
Internet address: ageclmf@mizzou1.missouri.edu

Kathy R. Thornburg
Professor and Director
Child Development Laboratory
University of Missouri-Columbia
Columbia, Missouri
Internet address: cfdkathy@mizzou1.missouri.edu

Judy A. Mumford
Early Childhood Accreditation
Stephens College
Columbia, Missouri

Kimberly Kempf Leonard
Associate Professor
University of Missouri-St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri

Juvenile justice, a system separate from criminal justice, is directed by laws and policies that are guided by the doctrine of parens patriae, requiring the state to function as a parent to meet the best interests of the youth whom they serve. This system must respond to the varied needs of youth, functioning simultaneously as caregivers, teachers, protectors, and disciplinarians, as well as ensuring community safety. The parens patriae objectives also require that administrative decisions be tailored to individual children and function away from public view in order to shield children.

Juvenile justice operates with more limited resources and more obscure goals than its criminal justice counterpart. The parens patriae philosophy allows juvenile justice broader discretion, which results in many opportunities for disparate treatment of youth. Included in that discretion is the potential for leaders working within the juvenile justice system and planners of youth programs, such as 4-H, to arrange for meaningful programs for youth at-risk. The inclusion of other seriously committed family- and youth-service organizations in a holistic approach to youth programming can lead to informed discussions within the context of the particular community. As a caring assembly working together, a group can identify current deficiencies in related youth programs, consider recommendations by experts, and apply relevant research to programs that range from prevention to auxiliary treatment. With accurate information, groups can plan policy changes to provide better access for troubled youth and offer them better alternatives in their selections of youth groups with which to identify.

Numerous national commissions and task forces, composed of hundreds of persons considered the most knowledgeable on child- and family-related issues, have produced reports recommending ways to improve various aspects of the lives of children and their families. Juvenile justice is one of the topics addressed by these panels.

The synthesis of these panel recommendations that pertain to juvenile justice was the focus of this study. The results, which combine the conclusions of many people and recent research, have practical as well as theoretical relevance, and equip practitioners with empirically-based information to design programs and to share with legislators and policy makers.


The method used in this study was to review existing reports focusing on children's issues, including juvenile justice, that were published from 1988 to 1992, and were sponsored by foundations, councils, government agencies, Congress, and national organizations or associations. (Several of the reports included disclaimers stating that opinions or conclusions were not necessarily those of the funding sources.) An attempt was made to include all reports that recommended specific actions for improving the lives of children. Fifty-eight reports were located and reviewed, including those with conservative and liberal views, those with recommendations relating to health, mental health, education, social services, labor, and juvenile justice.

The 58 reports reviewed had from one to 133 recommendations, with a total of 1,218 individual recommendations. At least two reports had to make a similar recommendation in order for it to be included in this study. Eighteen recommendations, from four different reports, were related to the topic of juvenile justice.


Each recommendation statement in this section is followed by: (1) the sponsors of the panels that made the recommendation, and (2) research that supports the recommendation.


Accurately assess each delinquent juvenile's risk to the public, develop innovative measures to deal effectively with first time drug offenders and youth involved in drug-related crimes, assess juveniles' rehabilitative needs, and provide after-care programs.

    National Coalition of Advocates for Students (1988)
    National Governors Association (1991)

Research support:

  1. Differentiates involvement in violations (property, person, drug, and public order violations) (Bishop & Frazier, 1990; Kempf, 1992).

  2. Equitably assesses seriousness of offenses (Lockhart, Kurtz, Sutphen & Gauger, 1990; Elliott & Huizinga, 1987).

  3. Explains minority overrepresentation in juvenile justice system: not due to greater prevalence of serious delinquency (Eisikovits, Fishman, Guttman, Joe, Krisberg & Schwartz, 1987).


Develop support by including juvenile justice representatives in planning and implementing community-based programs, by fostering an understanding of the nature of detained youth and alternative programs such as parent training in intergroup relations seminars.

    National Governors Association (1991)
    National Coalition for Advocates for Students (1988)

Research support:

  1. Geographic residence affects case outcomes (Feld, 1991; Kempf, 1992; Kempf, Decker & Bing, 1992).

  2. Identifies that less attachment to conventional institutions, weakened family units, and negative peer pressure are more the basis of delinquency than socioeconomic status or community environment (Gottfredson, Gottfredson & McNeil, 1991).

  3. Identifies reasons why there is a negative relation between socioeconomic status and delinquency (Agnew, 1990).

  4. Finds minority youth (Latino and Native American) more likely to reside outside of metro areas (Pope & Feyerherm, 1991).


Establish flexible funding and innovative partnerships to offset funding discrepancies.

    Children's Defense Fund (1992)
    National Coalition for Advocates for Students (1988)
    National Governors Association (1991)
    White House Conference on a Drug Free America (1988)

Research support:

Defines indicators of expanding underclass population--youth unemployment rates, changing urban structures, decline of urban industry, ethnic transformation, shifting job opportunities (Duster, 1987).


Compile system-wide state and local data on programs and individuals for the purpose of program analysis and development of youth profiles--include program goal attainment and cost data as well as individual histories and abilities.

    National Coalition for Advocates for Students (1988)
    National Governors Association (1991)

Research support:

  1. Recommends better specification of SES/poverty (Meier & Tittle, 1990; Agnew, 1990; Chesney, Lind & Morash, 1991; Gottfredson et al., 1991; Iovanni & Paternoster, 1989).

  2. Notes racial disparity research deficiency and recommends improving studies on disparity in juvenile justice (Pope & Feyerherm, 1991).


Research supports the recommendations made by various national-level panels regarding the topic of juvenile justice. The juvenile justice system needs to be examined and improved for the sake of children as well as society. Since children are facing a growing number of societal problems, youth-serving organizations must re-examine their roles and financial supports, align themselves with the solutions of this new system, and where necessary, reach through all decision making levels to do so.

One report or one piece of research can be too easily ignored. However, the thinking of some of the most knowledgeable human service professionals, business leaders, legislators, and members of advocacy groups in the nation, with the research to support their proposals, demands thoughtful and pragmatic deliberation. Youth organizations, service clubs, and other civic organizations cannot avoid their role in finding solutions for youths' problems and still claim an important place in the lives of today's youth. These local organizations, including Extension, have a special role in contributing to prevention and in providing ways for early intervention and possible auxiliary treatment. Key to this role in prevention and early intervention is the challenge of accessing youth-at-risk and youth who have encountered the family service and juvenile justice system (the courts).

Items to consider include:

  • Consider new programming that has meaning to this particular group of youth. Focus on activities that are capable of attracting them to opportunities for healthy social interaction and development.

  • Create multi-level teams and collaborations, for programming and for breaking through barriers that exist at various points. Recruit help to solve the challenges of new programs that fit the needs of the changing community.

  • rural and urban environments. As families migrate toward larger communities, they have a need for their organizations to move and change accordingly.

  • Find creative approaches to use the high level of energy of volunteers. Be ready for powerful people who want to help and who are capable of contributing beyond the stretches of past programming.

All people concerned with the well-being of children need to be informed, active participants in improving the juvenile justice system. The vital, research-supported information in this review, presented in a succinct format, can be shared with contemporary policy makers at the local, state, and federal levels.


Agnew, R. (1990). Adolescent resources and delinquency. Criminology, 28, 535-566.

Bishop, D., & Frazier, C. (1990). A study of race and juvenile justice processing in Florida. Technical report prepared for the Florida Supreme Court Racial and Ethnic Bias Study Commission. Tallahassee, FL: Florida Supreme Court.

Chesney, L. M., & Morash, M. (1991). A reformulation and partial test of the power control theory of delinquency. Justice Quarterly, 8, 347-377.

Children's Defense Fund. (1992). The nation's investment in children: An analysis of the President's FY 1993 budget proposals. Washington, DC: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 319 112)

Duster, T. (1987). Crime, youth unemployment, and the black urban underclass. Crime and Delinquency, 33, 300-316.

Eisikovits, Z., Fishman, G., Guttman, E., Joe, K., Krisberg, B., & Schwartz, I. (1987). The incarceration of minority youth. Crime and Delinquency, 33, 173-205.

Elliott, D., & Huizinga, D. (1987). Juvenile offenders: Prevalence, offender incidence, and arrest rates by race. Crime and Delinquency, 33, 206-223.

Feld, B. (1991). Justice by geography: Urban, suburban, and rural variations in juvenile justice administration. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 82(1), 156-210.

Gottfredson, D., Gottfredson, G., & McNeil, R. (1991). Social area influences on delinquency: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 28, 197-226.

Iovanni, L., & Paternoster, R. (1989). The labeling perspective and delinquency: An elaboration of the theory and an assessment of the evidence. Justice Quarterly, 6, 359-394.

Kempf, K. (1992). The role of race in juvenile justice in Pennsylvania. Technical report prepared for the Pennsylvania Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research. Shippensberg: Pennsylvania Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research.

Kempf, K., Decker, S., & Bing, R. (1992). An analysis of apparent disparities in the handling of black youth. The Justice Professional, 6(1), 110-133.

Lockhart, L., Kurtz, P., Sutphen, R., & Gauger, K. (1990). Georgia's juvenile justice system: A retrospective investigation of racial disparity. Technical report prepared for the Georgia Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council. Part 1. Athens: University of Georgia.

Meier, R. F., & Tittle, C. R. (1990). Specifying the SES/delinquency relationship. Criminology, 28, 271-299.

National Coalition of Advocates for Students. (1988). New voices: Immigrant students in U.S. public schools. Boston, MA: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 297 063)

National Governors Association. (1991). Kids in trouble: Coordinating social and correctional service systems for youth. Washington, DC: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 339 925)

Pope, C., & Feyerherm, W. (1991). Minorities in the juvenile justice system. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

White House Conference on a Drug Free America. (1988). The White House conference for a drug free America. Washington, DC: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 298 100)

Author Notes

A complete listing of the specific recommendations from each panel reference in this synthesis is available. Contact: RUPRI, University of Missouri-Columbia, 200 Mumford Hall, Columbia, MO 65211.

Special thanks to G.R. Westwood, Youth Development Programs Director at the University of Missouri in Columbia for his contributions in this manuscript.

The Rural Policy Research Institute of the Universities of Arkansas, Iowa State, Missouri, and Nebraska provided support for this research.