What is Young Adult Justice?
Recent attention to mass incarceration in the United States, along with research into the psychological and neurological development of young adults—of the approximate ages between 18 to 25—reveals that young adults are served poorly by adult-focused U.S. criminal justice practices. Young adults are more developmentally similar to adolescents yet receive none of the mitigation, individualization, special programming, and protections from collateral consequences that are afforded, if imperfectly, to juveniles in delinquency or family court.
The results for this age grouping are rates of system involvement, incarceration, and re-arrest that are unacceptably high. Most people who ever have a felony record obtain that classification before age 25 and most people who commit a felony 'age out' of criminality by age 25. Put another way—if young people can reach age 25 without a criminal record and without prison experience, their likelihood of ever having such a record/experience drops significantly.
A growing bipartisan consensus has formed around the desire to end mass incarceration, and yet the path toward that goal remains uncertain. No one technique will end mass incarceration, but perhaps a more thoughtful approach to how we handle young adults can reduce incarceration rates and the rates at which young people enter later adulthood with criminal records, while also improving participation in mainstream society by young adults.
This section of our website contains research on young adult justice conducted at Harvard Kennedy School in 2016 and 2017. The research team has moved to Columbia University and you can follow their more recent research here.