Authors: Bo-Kyung Elizabeth Kim, Assistant Professor in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, Susan McCarter, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and Patricia Logan-Greene, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
In order to achieve equal opportunity and justice, our nation’s most vulnerable youth must not bear a disproportionate burden of justice system involvement. In 2016, nearly one million youth in the United States were arrested (Hockenberry & Puzzanchera, 2018). These youth are often those growing up with neglect, maltreatment, and abuse; living without financial security; facing mental, emotional, and behavioral health problems; and experiencing discrimination for various reasons not limited to race, ethnicity, culture, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Moreover, once they become justice-involved, they face diminished outcomes in development, education, and employment, as well as an increased likelihood of continued system involvement. Therefore, we propose rebuilding social work’s commitment to juvenile justice by capitalizing on recent policy and systems change, cross-sector collaboration, and evidence-based interventions. To transform the juvenile justice system over the next decade, we propose five actionable goals for social work practice, policy, and research to dismantle inequity and injustice and foster the full social, civic, economic, and political integration of justice-involved youth.