By Jeffrey A. Butts, Emily Pelletier, and Lila Kazemian
"Across the United States, youth justice systems are increasingly turning to the science of adolescent development to inform their intervention approaches and to measure youth success. Scientific knowledge about adolescent development is often expressed through the principles of positive youth development (PYD), a programmatic framework that encourages service providers to concentrate on the ability of all young people to thrive when they experience positive relationships and meaningful activities in supportive and safe environments.
Some youth service systems have long relied on PYD principles—e.g., out-of-school-time programs. Youth justice, however, began to embrace the PYD approach only recently. Interventions based on PYD principles are not a natural fit for youth justice systems that focus on controlling misbehavior and preventing subsequent contacts with justice authorities (i.e. recidivism).
Measuring positive outcomes in youth justice requires a shift away from recidivism as the sole indicator of program effectiveness. A youth justice system embracing the PYD approach would gauge its success by tracking positive youth outcomes, such as the formation of strong and supportive relationships, academic engagement, labor market readiness, and improved socio-emotional skills. These outcomes encourage a broader perspective on the goals of justice intervention and pursuing these goals would transform youth justice systems, making them more consistent with research on adolescent development, strengths-based perspectives, and community connections for youth. How, exactly, can youth justice systems begin to do this?
This report reviews a number of prominent frameworks that are available to help youth justice systems rely on positive outcomes rather than recidivism to measure their effectiveness. These include the Developmental Assets model, the 5Cs model, the Youth Program Quality Assessment model, the Positive Youth Justice model, and the Youth Thrive framework. Each model or framework aligns with the key principles of positive youth development as well as the large body of research on desistance from crime, which is also presented in this report."