Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) works with policymakers and practitioners who want juvenile justice to be rooted in the community, more effective, and smaller in scale, touching the lives of fewer children.

CYJ’s core values and areas of work with juvenile justice systems include:

Narrowing the net:

Far too many children who have not committed crimes or have committed low-level offenses can become entangled within a juvenile justice system ill-equipped to effectively address their needs. CYJ helps narrow the net by reducing the involvement of non-delinquent youth in the juvenile justice system and ensuring that youth who are charged with delinquency offenses are treated in a developmentally-appropriate manner. 

  • Status Offenders. Youth that commit “status offenses” like truancy, running away from home, and other behaviors prohibited due to their age too often end up in front of a judge. Our Status Offense Reform Center provides states and localities with resources and guidance on how to reform existing practices to ensure that these young people and their families receive the resources and support they need, outside of the justice system.
  • Stop, Question, and Frisk. Our study of young people in five highly-patrolled neighborhoods provides a first-ever look at how frequently youth are stopped, questioned, and frisked by police, and how these interactions influence their views of the police, their neighborhoods, and themselves, and may adversely affect public safety by lowering trust in law enforcement.
  • Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction. We provide technical assistance and research support to states to safely bring all justice-involved youth under the jurisdiction of the juvenile, rather than adult, justice system.
  • The State of Juvenile Justice. Vera's DC office and CYJ convened a series of seven research-based, educational congressional briefings on adolescent brain research, the systemic causes of youth contact with the justice system, and the implications for future legal standards and best practices.

Serving children within communities:

CYJ helps juvenile justice systems adapt so that youth are supervised and receive services in their own communities.

  • Detention as a Last Resort. We help practitioners develop and implement risk assessment tools to limit the use of pre-trial detention to only those youth who pose a measurable and significant risk to public safety.
  • Alternative Sentencing. CYJ assists jurisdictions in implementing structured and objective sentencing processes that emphasize alternatives to “placement” (prison in the adult context) that are more effective and less costly.
  • Success in the Community. We help practitioners and policymakers design and implement strategies for supporting system-involved youth in the community and as they return home from incarceration.

Cultivating a new kind of secure facility:

  • CYJ participates in the redesign of secure care facilities so that they facilitate meaningful change among youth in placement, provide them with robust education and career opportunities, foster family engagement, and are located near youths’ home communities.

Across these areas of focus, CYJ’s knowledge of and experience with juvenile justice systems allows it to uncover and help to remedy policies and practices that disproportionately harm youth of color by increasing their likeli­hood of contact with the juvenile justice system.

Why we do this work?

Less than a generation ago, juvenile justice policy in America was shaped by fear of young people and a drive to punish. A census in 1995 counted more than 100,000 children in the U.S. living in locked facilities, often far from their families. Since then, a wave of reforms swept the country. In 2010, the same census documented roughly 70,000 juveniles in custody—still a large number, but a clear sign of a changing trend. In spite of the positive trend, however, many juvenile justice systems continue to focus on punishment instead of treatment, expose youth to inhumane conditions that are unsuitable to their healthy development, and disproportionately subject youth of color to these injustices.  Vera’s Center on Youth Justice combines research, planning, and technical assistance with expertise to help government partners and community justice stakeholders tackle tough issues and achieve safe and positive outcomes for children, communities, and society.

For more information about the Center on Youth Justice, contact the center director, Krista Larson.


Diversion Resources for Police and Families

Many communities are frustrated with how to respond to youth “acting out”—running away from home, skipping school, violating curfew, or disobeying adults—as well as how to respond to young people getting arrested for more serious actions like fighting and other events stemming from family conflict. This project describes new and exciting models for juvenile diversion across the country, highlighting concrete examples, their potential benefit, and lessons stakeholders involved in development and implementation have learned. The goal is to inspire additional communities to explore, understand, and develop these approaches and keep young people who engage in minor misbehavior out of the juvenile justice system.

Family Partnership for Juvenile Justice Reform

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ), in partnership with Justice for Families (J4F) and with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is working with Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to focus the department’s policies and programming on the needs and concerns of youth’s families. 

Illinois Enhanced Aftercare Project

With funding from the Public Welfare Foundation, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice is partnering with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) to improve how young people fare after returning from placement with the state.

New York State Juvenile Reentry Consortium

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) will be the facilitator and technical assistance provider for the New York State Juvenile Reentry Consortium, a group of counties that will work collaboratively to improve reentry planning, coordination, and services for youth returning from a period of post-sentencing confinement in private, voluntary residential care facilities. The initiative is funded by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

NYC-based Research Projects

Our work in New York City spans across Vera’s centers and programs. What these projects have in common is close collaboration with our partners, data and evidence-driven approaches, and recommendations that seek to improve the systems that New Yorkers rely on for public safety, justice, and human services. Although these projects take place in the unique context of New York City, they all bear important implications and lessons for jurisdictions across the country.

Sedgwick County Family Engagement Project

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice is partnering with the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections (DOC) to create a county-wide model for engaging families who are involved with the juvenile justice system. The model will support the DOC’s goal of increasing family involvement in the service of better outcomes for the youth in their system and will help create family engagement standards for counties across the country.

Status Offense System Reform Initiative

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice is partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to provide tailored, data-driven, and best-practice-informed training and technical assistance that will help jurisdictions improve their responses to the needs of youth engaged in status offenses—behaviors, such as running away or skipping school, which are prohibited under law only because of an person’s status as a minor. This project is complemented by additional funding from the MacArthur Foundation to support Vera’s Status Offense Reform Center (SORC).

Young Adults in Jail

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ), in partnership with the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) and with funding from the National Institute of Justice, is conducting an evaluation of a new approach to working with 18 to 21-year-olds on Rikers Island. The project will study the effect of putting young adults in jail in separate housing, with bans on punitive segregation, programming tailored to young adult development, and transition planning.

Youth Futures: Workforce Development and Educational Support to System-Involved Youth

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) is coordinating Youth Futures, a multi-site program aimed at improving the long-term employment prospects of at-risk and justice-involved youth living in, or returning to, high-crime, high-poverty communities in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and through partnerships with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, and the Youth Empowerment Project, Youth Futures prepares program participants for success in the labor market by providing comprehensive, individualized case management services linked to workforce development and educational interventions, supports, and training programs.

It Takes a Village: Diversion Resources for Police and Families
Police frequently encounter youth running away from home, violating curfew, skipping school, and chronically disobeying adults—misbehavior that can often stem from family conflict and that does not require justice involvement. When alternatives are not available, however, these behaviors can lead...
Identifying, Engaging, and Empowering Families: A Charge for Juvenile Justice Agencies
Family involvement is essential for positive youth outcomes, especially for those youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Family visits, for example, can improve youth behavior during incarceration and are associated with better school performance. In recognition of these facts, Vera...
Nicholas Turner's Testimony to President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing
Written testimony of Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, on the topic of building trust and legitimacy between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, submitted on January 9, 2015 to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Turner...
Innovations in NYC Health and Human Services Policy: The Close to Home Initiative and Related Reforms in Juvenile Justice
Guided by research indicating that community-based alternatives are often more effective and less expensive and stigmatizing than placing juvenile offenders in institutional facilities, New York City has worked to reduce over-reliance on such dispositions and to ensure that those youth that may be...
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Krista Larson
Director, Center on Youth Justice
Ryan Shanahan
Research Director, Center on Youth Justice
Jennifer Ferone
Research Project Director, Center on Youth Justice
Vidhya Ananthakrishnan
Project Director, Center on Youth Justice
Hernan Carvente
Program Analyst, Center on Youth Justice
Lindsay Rosenthal
Senior Program Associate and Gender Justice Fellow
Saadiq Bey
Research Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Mahsa Jafarian
Program Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Sarah Zarba
Center Coordinator
Nicolas Montano
Research Associate
Cymone Fuller
Program Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Izzy Sederbaum
Research Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Byron Kline
Senior Program Associate, Center on Youth Justice
Steven Pacheco
Vera Opportunity Fellow
Ivy Kough
Program Intern, Center on Youth Justice
Elizabeth Ige
Research Analyst, Center on Youth Justice
Erin Kuller