March: Criminal Justice Month at TYAN

In honor of Criminal Justice Month, we’re looking closely at how the justice system affects an overlooked group: teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 25. These young people are represented more than others at every stage of the U.S. Justice System. In 2018, 18-24-year-olds accounted for 23% of all arrests despite being only 9.5% of the population. Several troubling factors make this demographic uniquely vulnerable and at risk. To begin, the relative immaturity of youth makes it more difficult for them to recognize the long-term consequences of their actions, assess risk-taking behaviors, and self-regulate impulses. Unsurprisingly, roughly 14% of emerging adults suffer from substance use disorder—a rate more than double that of any other age group.

Emerging adults may also have unmet needs that can make them more likely to encounter the criminal justice system. Unlike older adults, who have steady employment, emerging adults “often face chronic homelessness and unemployment, and [they] lack the basic academic, life, and work skills needed to be successful…” Researchers have further shown that adolescents seek the approval of their friends and peers, which can compel them to take part in criminal behavior and increase their likelihood of committing crimes in groups. Adverse childhood experiences—such as poverty, abuse, and family dysfunction—can further delay maturity and increase the chances of criminal justice system interaction.

Once arrested, they are more likely than any other age group to be arrested again and end up in jail or prison. Incarceration is traumatic and “a huge impediment to the psychological development of adolescents and emerging adults.” Justice-involved youth consequently have both great risk and the unmet need to develop emotional, education, and life skills. One of the TYAN partners, Café Momentum, provides an excellent model of how to use positive youth development to address these unmet needs and to help justice-involved youth to meet their full potential.

Café Momentum is a nationally recognized nonprofit restaurant and training facility that collaborates with justice-involved youth. Their staff work with the Juvenile Justice Department and local communities to create holistic, individualized plans that empower youth to break the cycle of incarceration and violence faced by emerging adults. Youth are awarded a 12-month paid internship. Each intern, while learning vital career skills, is also assigned a case manager. These case managers, furthermore, provide support that includes financial education, parenting classes, trauma recovery, educational support, and career exploration. To learn more about their important work in positive youth development with justice involved youth, check the link below!

Pirius, R. (2019). The Legislative Primer Series for Front-End Justice: Young Adults in the Justice System. National Conference of State Legislators.

Casey, B. J., Getz, S., & Galvan, A. (2008). The adolescent brain. Developmental review: DR, 28(1), 62–77. 10.1016/j.dr.2007.08.003; Steinberg L. (2008). A Social Neuroscience Perspective on Adolescent Risk-Taking. Developmental review: DR, 28(1), 78–106. 10.1016/j.dr.2007.08.002; Romer D. (2010). Adolescent risk taking, impulsivity, and brain development: implications for prevention. Developmental psychobiology, 52(3), 263–276. 10.1002/dev.20442; Cauffman, E. & Steinberg, L. (2012). Emerging Findings from Research on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, Victims & Offenders, 7(4), 428–449, 10.1080/15564886.2012.713901; Arain, M., Haque, M., Johal, L., Mathur, P., Nel, W., Rais, A., Sandhu, R., & Sharma, S. (2013). Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 9, 449–461. 10.2147/NDT.S39776; Kan, Emily, Beardslee, J., Frick, P.J., Steinberg, L. & Cauffman, E. (2023). Impulse control moderates the association between substance use and substance use-related consequences among justice-system-involved youth. Applied Developmental Science, 10.1080/10888691.2023.2254692.

Pirius, R. (2019). p.7.

Cauffman, E. & Steinberg, L. (2012); Kokkalera, Stuti, Beck, S. & Bornstein, A. (2021). Too Young for the Crime, Yet Old Enough to do Life: A Critical Review of How State Felony Murder Laws Apply to Juvenile Defendants. Journal of Criminal Justice and Law 4(2), 90–107 10.21428/cb6ab371.a1fe8f4b.

Zimring, F. E. (1999). The hardest of the hard cases: Adolescent homicide in juvenile and criminal courts. Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law 6, 437–469.

Edalati, H., Nicholls, T. L., Crocker, A. G., Roy, L., Somers, J. M., & Patterson, M. L. (2017). Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Criminal Justice Involvement and Victimization Among Homeless Adults With Mental Illness. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 68(12), 1288–1295. 10.1176/

Pirius, Rebecca (2019).

Lindell, K. U., Goodpoint, K.L. (2020). Rethinking justice for emerging adults: Spotlight on the Great Lakes Region, Juvenile Law Center. p. 4.



Organizations interested in starting or expanding their youth-adult partnerships can apply to be a Community Partner. As a Community Partner, organizations can access to exclusive materials, technical support, funding, and more!