"If Not Now, When?" Survey Finds Scant Police Training in Juvenile Justice
A recent survey of the state of training about juveniles in police academies reveals deficits in quantity and quality, with most state police academies devoting less than 1% of total curriculum time to teaching about juvenile justice. The nationwide survey conducted by Strategies for Youth (SFY) reports that the limited training that does exist emphasizes legal issues rather than skills and best practices for working with youth.
This is problematic, considering the growing body of research establishing the developmental and psychological differences between youth and adults. At the same time, police presence in the lives of youth has increased in recent years, with officers deployed in public schools and responding to disputes involving juveniles. A wealth of scientific information has informed best practice and effective strategies for interactions with youth, but goes neglected in police training at this juncture.
Highlights of the survey’s results include:
- Only 9 states provide new officers any training on adolescent mental health issues, and only 2 training on adolescent development and psychology.
- Only 8 states provide information on the federally required obligation to reduce disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in their juvenile justice curriculum.
- 5 states require no juvenile justice training in the academy at all.
- 40 states’ juvenile justice curricula focus primarily on the juvenile code and legal issues and provide no communication or psychological skills for officers working with youth.
Of the 2.1 million juvenile arrests each year, only 12% are for serious or violent felonies. According to SFY this number shows the consequences of this training gap, as lacking other strategies, police quickly resort to arrests in youth interactions. Beyond being costly, arrests negatively impact youth, their communities, and officers alike. Said SFY Executive Director Lisa Thurau in a press release,
“There’s a big disconnect in the American juvenile justice system. While reformers and system stakeholders are working to reduce reliance on the arrest, detention and incarceration of juveniles, police are being ignored as an integral part of these efforts. We’ve got to share this information with them and make them partners in reform.”
To address the current inadequacies in the scope, depth and focus of police training on youth, SFY makes the following recommendations:
- Increase training;
- Expand training to include adolescent development and best practices for working with youth;
- Obtain federal and state support for a gold standard of youth development training; and
- Cross train with other juvenile justice professionals and youth-serving community based organizations.
Taking these and other actions to ensure police are up to speed in juvenile justice will improve youth outcomes, reduce unnecessary arrests, increase safety and better relations between youths and police. Now is the time to get started.
Gabrielle Nygaard is a Digital and Social Media Intern at Prichard Communications, where she assists on several accounts, including Reclaiming Futures. She is a student at Linfield College studying Mass Communication and Japanese. She is an Oregon native and health enthusiast.