National Center for Youth Law


Youth Justice Initiative


The National Center for Youth Law’s Youth Justice Initiative (YJI) is committed to radically transforming our country’s approach to youth justice. Our goal is to prevent youth from coming into contact with the juvenile justice system, and to ensure that when they do, they are met with equitable, community-driven, health-centered supports that achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves, their families, and their communities. Our mission is to uplift youth voices, families and communities, public health expertise, and community-based organizations to fill the void created by current punitive approaches to juvenile justice. Our vision is to work alongside policy makers, coalition partners, service providers, community leaders, families, and advocates in order to establish equitable, trauma-informed, family-centered justice systems that are aligned with youth development principles.


Each year, millions of children and youth are arrested, incarcerated, or otherwise involved in the juvenile justice system. In most cases, the response is inappropriate and harmful because it does not address the underlying needs that brought youth to the system, it criminalizes normal adolescent behavior, and it has the potential to increase trauma and recidivism. Youth of color are disproportionately impacted by the flaws, missteps, and lack of oversight that exist in our current justice systems. To create overall change, we improve policies, practices, and cultures that are developmentally and racially unjust, so that all youth are seen and treated appropriately and equitably. 


The YJI team focuses primarily on three areas of work: 1) reducing the reliance on youth incarceration and system involvement; 2) ending the overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system; and 3) promoting a shift from punitive responses to health and trauma-informed approaches to serving youth by expanding access to high-quality, community-based services that promote the healthy development of youth. 

We operate at the intersection of research, grassroots organizing, coalition building, training and technical assistance, public education, and policy reform to establish models of support so that each youth is treated appropriately based on age and level of development, through a trauma- and culturally-informed manner, in their home communities and outside of the justice system whenever possible.

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