On Friday November 8, 2013, the Schubert Center, in co-sponsorship with the Center for Innovative Practices at the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education in the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, hosted Edward Mulvey, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. Mulvey was invited to speak about his important work concerning adolescent development in context of juvenile justice policy and practice. Mulvey served on a National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Assessing Juvenile Justice Reform to make recommendations for juvenile justice reform based on current adolescent development research. The panel’s findings were published in “Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach.”
Mulvey highlighted three ways in which adolescents are developmentally unique that have particular implications for the juvenile justice system. First, they have difficulty self-regulating in emotionally charged contexts. This means that they are more prone to outbursts and have more difficulty calming themselves than adults. Second, adolescents are more sensitive to outside influences, meaning that in the presence of peers, they may exhibit riskier behavior than they would alone. Finally, adolescents have difficulty in making decisions involving future orientation; simply put, they have trouble connecting their actions to how it will affect them in the future.
Mulvey emphasized that a successful juvenile justice system is essential for healthy youth development. A successful juvenile justice system is one that is fair, holds youths appropriately accountable for their actions, and prevents recidivism to the greatest degree possible. When held accountable in a fair and equitable way, rather than simply for punitive purposes, adolescents develop a healthy sense of boundaries and respect for the process of the legal system. Conversely, if they perceive punishment as unfair or inequitable, young people can become even more alienated from society and lose respect for authority.
Mulvey also presented findings from the “Pathways to Desistance” study. Mulvey and a team of researchers spent 7 years conducting interviews with serious youth offenders in order to better understand what factors in the juvenile justice system helped reduce their risk of recidivism and promote healthy development. The study found that even for youth felony offenders, most juvenile offenders “age out” of criminal behavior as they mature. Only around 21% of participants had been arrested in the past year 7 years after the study began, compared to 29% in the first year of the study. Mulvey and his colleagues also found that, compared to similar youth offenders who received probation, placement in institutional facilities was no more effective in reducing the rate of re-arrest. Additionally, the quality of care received in institutional settings was highly variable, and stays longer than 6 months had no effect on the rate of re-arrest. Finally, for youth with substance abuse problems, youth offenders held in juvenile facilities were more likely than youth in the general population or youth in adult prisons to receive substance use treatment.
Click here to download The Bridge to Somewhere: How Research Made Its Way into Juvenile Justice Reform in Ohio, a case study of how the Schubert Center and other stakeholders were able to introduce evidence-based practices into juvenile justice reform in Ohio.