WASHINGTON, DC–The justice system treats youth charged with violent offenses in ways that are unnecessarily expensive, ineffective and unjust. Although the research is clear that many youth convicted of a violent crime are best treated in a community-based setting, our default response to youth violence is still confinement. In Smart, Safe, and Fair, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) and the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) spoke with members of the victims’ community to further examine the barriers to treating youth involved in violent crime in the community, and to gauge their support for these proposed reforms.

The crime victims we spoke with were consistent in their support for a change from a status quo they see as costly, ineffective, and damaging to youth and their families—all while failing to meet the needs of crime victims themselves. Instead, they expressed a belief that there should be no categorical bar on serving more young people involved in violent crime in the community, particularly because youth engaged in violence are overwhelmingly victims themselves, and should receive appropriate services.

Research demonstrates that using confinement over community-based approaches increases the risk of reoffending, discriminates against youth of color, and is significantly more expensive. Changing the laws, policies, and practices to increase opportunities for community-based treatment would free up money to reinvest in community-based services for youth as well as victims services – needs that crime victims were adamant are not currently being met.

Mai Fernandez, the Executive Director of the National Centers for Victims of Crime, said in response to the report, “As a former prosecutor I saw young people who needed help instead simply get incarcerated. If I could have, I would have wanted to have access to community based alternatives to incarceration to hold these young people accountable, meet the needs of victims, and make our communities safer.”

Marc Schindler, the Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute, echoed this statement, saying “It is critical that we recognize that many youth who become involved in violent crime are victims of trauma themselves, and when we respond in ways that are research and community-based, it make it less likely they will re-offend in the future. Locking kids up may sound like it should work, but it is often the least effective and most expensive approach.”


Based in Washington, DC, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) is dedicated to reducing the use of incarceration and the justice system by promoting research-based, fair, and effective policies. The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) is the nation’s leading resource and advocacy organization for victims of all types of crime and for the people who serve them. For more information about JPI, please visit www.justicepolicy.org. For more information about NCVC, please visit www.victimsofcrime.org.