Europe’s ‘Rehabilitative’ Approach to Young Adults Worth Examining by US: Study

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The U.S. could take some useful lessons from the European approach to dealing with young adults who are involved with the justice system, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study, published in the Justice Evaluation Journal, examined juvenile justice models in Germany, The Netherlands and Croatia—all of which allow “emerging adults” over 18 to be handled in juvenile courts.

The “emerging adult” category, which covers individuals over the ages of 18 but younger than 25 (or in some cases 23) is already considered a special category in 28 European countries that merits “developmentally appropriate” responses, such as reduced sanctions or placement in juvenile detention.

The authors of the study focused on three alternative models based on the findings of a visit by U.S. policymakers, stakeholders and providers to Germany, Croatia and The Netherlands in March sponsored by the Columbia University Justice Lab.

“While those countries have distinct approaches to which courts, which facilities and at which ages emerging adults can benefit from juvenile laws and practices, they also have some commonalities worth examination by U.S. policymakers,” wrote the authors, Vincent Schiraldi of the School of Social Work & Justice Lab at Columbia University; Sibella Matthews, a graduate student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; and Lael Chester of the Columbia Justice Lab.

Schiraldi, a former New York City probation commissioner, was a member of the delegation.

They listed the key takeaways as:

  1. Greater reliance on informal approaches to offending by juveniles and emerging adults;
  2. Higher minimum ages at which juvenile laws can be applied to children;
  3. Greater reliance on “educational” or rehabilitative approaches to youth found involved in delinquent or criminal behavior;
  4. Greater confidentiality protections for youth and young adults;
  5. Less reliance on incarceration.

The authors noted that the lessons drawn from each country were particularly timely as Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and Vermont were considering becoming the first U.S. states to extend their juvenile courts’ jurisdictions beyond age 18.

Editors’ Note: For first-hand accounts of the fact-finding trip,  see also  In Germany, it’s Hard to Find a Young Adult in Prison.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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