Justice Policy Reform for High-Risk Juveniles: Using Science to Achieve Large-Scale Crime Reduction

Jennifer L. Skeem
Elizabeth S. Scott, Columbia Law School
Edward Mulvey


After a distinctly punitive era, a period of remarkable reform in juvenile crime regulation has begun. Practical urgency has fueled interest in both crime reduction and research on the prediction and malleability of criminal behavior. In this rapidly changing context, high-risk juveniles—the small proportion of the population where crime becomes concentrated—present a conundrum. Research indicates that these are precisely the individuals to treat intensively to maximize crime reduction, but there are both real and imagined barriers to doing so. Mitigation principles (during early adolescence, ages 10–13) and institutional placement or criminal court processing (during mid-late adolescence, ages 14–18) can prevent these juveniles from receiving interventions that would best protect public safety. In this review, we synthesize relevant research to help resolve this challenge in a manner that is consistent with the law's core principles. In our view, early adolescence offers unique opportunities for risk reduction that could (with modifications) be realized in the juvenile justice system in cooperation with other social institutions.