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Lisa Thurau, SFY Executive Director, at

10 Law Enforcement Policies for Youth Justice aims to increase law enforcement agencies’ use of developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed, racially equitable policies and practices. We note that the National Academies of Science has recommended the adoption of a developmental approach in the juvenile justice system, starting with law enforcement. In its 2013 publication, the Academy noted that a lack of fairness and transparency of law enforcement practices towards youth “make it difficult to understand and improve system functioning” even as “[c]oncerns about procedural fairness have also become increasingly salient, as courts and legislatures have realized that youth may need special protections when they face law enforcement…” The Academy reiterated society’s obligation to ensure “fundamental fairness all the way through the process— including police decisions to question a youth, take custody, or file a charge” because of the importance of fairness or procedural justice.

“Like other aims of juvenile justice, achieving fairness is developmentally grounded. First, interventions or sanctions that are intended to hold adolescents accountable for their wrongdoing should not be excessive or disproportionate to the seriousness of the wrongdoing or to the blame-worthiness of the youth. Second, procedures that may be regarded as fair to adults may not be fair to juveniles, because they are less able than adults to protect their own interests. Third, adolescents are very sensitive to perceived injustice, and unfair treatment by the legal system may accentuate antisocial tendencies, whereas fair official responses to wrongdoing may enhance respect for and obedience to law and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.” (Citations omitted) See, also, Wiley & Finn-Esbensen, 2011 and DelToro, 2019.

Sources for the 10 Policies include policy language used in U.S. Department of Justice consent decrees, agencies that have changed policies in response to lawsuits on behalf of youth claiming unreasonable and excessive use of force, as well as recommendations of national standard-setting law enforcement organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). These policies are being developed with the following assumptions about the meaning of developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed, and racially equitable:
  • Developmentally appropriate refers to the recognition that children and youth are in a period of transformative change and growth, marked by recognized developmental stages, and that adults must consider youths’ capacity to perceive, process and respond as a function of their developmental stage and individual capacity. SFY believes adults, institutions, and systems working with youth have an obligation to be developmentally competent. Being developmentally appropriate is key to implementing positive youth development approaches that value youth and use inclusive approaches to support them.
  • Trauma-informed refers to individuals, institutions, and systems that affirmatively recognize and respond to the impacts of traumatic stress on youth who have been exposed to traumatic incidents and use practices and policies that avoid and mitigate further exposure to trauma.
  • Racially equitable refers to practices and policies that are unbiased and fair, which provide equitable access to opportunities and outcomes, while recognizing and actively addressing historic, legal, institutional and political sources of inequality. Currently, race plays a significant, predictive role in decision-making by individuals, institutions, and systems. Racially equitable policies have the goal of reducing, and ultimately, eliminating this reality.

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