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Informing Juvenile Justice Policy: Directions for Behavioral Science Research

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Recent policy initiatives threaten to reduce the rehabilitative mission of the juvenile court or eliminate the court entirely. This article lays out a framework for an empirical assessment of these developments. It first evaluates the available and potential empirical support for three hypotheses about juveniles that might justify maintaining a separate, rehabilitation-oriented juvenile justice system: the hypotheses that, compared to adults, juveniles are more treatable, less culpable, and less deterrable. On the assumption that the continued existence of a rehabilitation-oriented juvenile court can be justified, it then provides suggestions as to how existing intervention strategies for juveniles could benefit from research attention to several substantive and methodological issues. These include refining outcome criteria and sampling strategies, matching offender and program characteristics, reexamining intervention efficacy, and focusing on decision makers and resource allocations.