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Kristan RussellShelby HickmanCait KanewskeMarly ZeiglerGene SiegelScott DeckerJennifer Lafferty
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The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically interrupted the full spectrum of juvenile justice system activities, processes, and structures in the United States, from intakes to reentry. Across the country, juvenile justice practitioners responded to this public health crisis by implementing emergency policies to mitigate disease spread and maintain programming to the extent possible given public health orders and staff absenteeism. As the upheaval created by the pandemic subsides and the country “returns to normal,” the juvenile justice field will benefit from a comprehensive assessment of the policies implemented and changed during the pandemic, with a specific eye toward what worked well, what did not, and the root causes for successes and challenges. It is clear that juvenile justice practice will not fully return to its pre-pandemic status, and in many cases will integrate changes in policy and practice brought about by the pandemic. Because decisions about the COVID-19 response have typically been made at the state level, aggregating and analyzing information across states and across practitioners within the juvenile justice continuum is a difficult but important undertaking.

Our 2021 National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-funded project—Juvenile Justice Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic—involves several research activities, including listening sessions, a systematic literature review, policy scan, and case studies.

Through these research activities, we aimed to answer three questions:

  1. How have juvenile justice systems responded to the COVID-19 pandemic? How have juvenile justice systems changed policies related to transfers between and releases from juvenile residential place facilities?
  2. How are different policy responses associated with youth and public safety outcomes (e.g., educational attainment, mental and physical wellbeing, recidivism, intakes, releases)?
  3. For policies associated with positive outcomes for youth or improved public safety, what resources are needed to sustain these policy changes in the long term?

Our team conducted listening sessions with a broad range of juvenile justice system practitioners to learn from
their experiences during the pandemic and to identify policies and practices that juvenile justice systems can and
should maintain in the long term (even as COVID-19 is now endemic). The goal of these listening sessions was to
discuss policies and practices related to juvenile intakes, transfers, and early releases from juvenile residential
placement facilities, as well as those intended to protect public safety and ensure the safety, health, appropriate
supervision, and long-term success of youth. We also asked practitioners to identify possible best practices for
rapidly responding to similar threats that may emerge in the future—such as other public health emergencies and
natural disasters—to ensure juvenile justice systems have an experience-based guide that reflects important lessons
learned for making difficult but effective decisions in emergency situations.

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Approved for public release

This project was supported by Award No. 15PNIJ-21-GG-03267-RESS awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of
Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this
publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.


  • Pages: 7
  • Document Number: IPD-2023-U-036548-Final
  • Publication Date: 11/14/2023
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