A report released Feb. 1 urges Colorado lawmakers to redesign and expand its system for youth who get in serious trouble with the law in ways that would align with the latest brain research, which shows that young people up to at least age 25 are capable of learning to make good decisions given the proper services.
For that reason, people through age 25 who are accused of committing felonies should be placed in what is known as the Youthful Offender System, where they would receive “developmentally appropriate programming” than they would in the Department of Corrections. That proposal is among 21 concrete recommendations regarding the treatment of “emerging adults” contained in the report by the Columbia University Justice Lab’s Emerging Adult Justice Project. The report was delivered to the state House and Senate Judiciary committees.
“Making the changes recommended in the report will provide a greater number of youths more developmentally appropriate, fairer, and more effective justice responses, and will improve public safety,” stated a news release from the Justice Lab.
Another recommendation calls on the state to abolish the harsh 30- to 45-day boot camp that greets young people when they enter the youth system, which the report deems “out-of-date” and “harmful.” Others include measures to improve youth and staff safety, enhance trauma-informed care, bolster the quality of mental/behavioral health services, allow for record expungement and protect due process rights.
“Now, in 2022, we have the benefit of research in the fields of neurobiology, developmental psychology, and sociology, among others, and decades of innovation,” the report reads. “The research can and should provide guidance on how to reform YOS.”
Colorado is not alone in considering updating their juvenile justice systems, but the Emerging Adult Justice Project hopes Colorado’s efforts serve as a national model.