Youth Justice

Led by Elizabeth Barnert, MD, MPH, and Laura Abrams, PHD, MSW
University of California, Los Angeles

The Youth Justice Node is a hub for multidisciplinary leaders in youth justice to collaborate in transforming the narrative around youth who come in contact with the law towards a focus on healthy development. Our work aims to cultivate partnerships and awareness among policy makers, researchers, youth justice practitioners, community and youth leaders, and others to promote innovative solutions that foster thriving in youth affected by the criminal legal system.


The mission of the Youth Justice Node is to advance bold, future-oriented thinking about policies and practices that prioritize the healthy development and wellbeing of youth involved in the criminal legal system. We draw on the Life Course Health Development (LCHD) approach to explore how core principles of health development, unfolding, complexity, timing, plasticity, thriving, and harmony can guide strategic policy and practice interventions in youth justice. 

We approach this mission through collective visualization of the following future oriented questions:

What does a future look like...

Without youth jails or surveillance?

With racial equity?

Where children in distress are supported instead of punished?

When prevention and intervention strategies address structural and root causes of harm?

Where community innovations are regarded with credibility and legitimacy, and supported in scaling up?

When community and youth leaders, youth justice practitioners, and researchers collaborate to advance a shared vision for youth justice?

The Youth Justice Node aims to serve as a hub to coordinate and expand the research on innovative, community-led approaches and priorities for youth justice. Through the Youth Justice Node, we aim to create a network of partnerships between community innovators and researchers to develop bodies of evidence on the efficacy, comparative benefits, and scalability of grassroots visions for youth justice.

Ongoing Projects and Grants

Currently, we are conducting an extensive analysis of contemporary paradigms and shifts in approaches for responding to youth in contact with the law. Through the Three Horizons framework for innovation, we are mapping this youth justice landscape and identifying the critical zones and pathways for transformation, including:

(Horizon 1) Where, how, and why the prevailing youth justice system is failing; the case for a future of transformation rather than reform.

(Horizon 2) Current innovations in youth justice that are pushing practice towards the ideal future state of youth justice and disrupting the prevailing approach; what will propel the field to shift to this vision for the future.

(Horizon 3) A vision of an ideal future for youth justice; the practices that will most effectively promote youth and community thriving and wellbeing.

In conjunction with this conceptual work, we are also developing our model as a collaborative, multi-disciplinary hub for research on innovation in youth justice. This includes outreach recruiting diverse thought partners, identifying and reducing barriers to collaboration, and defining our organizational processes, tools, and values to guide implementation of our mission building an evidence-base for community-led transformation of youth justice.

image shows a life course health development informed framework for child justice, through the example of Canada's minimum age law
Source: Barnert, Gallagher, Lei, Abrams. Applying a health development lens to Canada's youth justice minimum age law. Pediatrics May 2022; 149 (Supplement 5): e2021053509P. 10.1542/peds.2021-053509P


Elizabeth and Laura were key architects of (and contributors to) a joint statement endorsed by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), American Council for School Social Work (ACSSW), American Psychological Association (APA), Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA), National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM). Health Group Statement of Support for Instituting a Minimum Age of Jurisdiction for Juvenile Justice Involvement, 2021 August. The statement advocates for a developmentally appropriate justice system that incorporates what we now know about early brain development and ensures that children have access to trauma-informed supportive health and social services.

Laura Abrams presented in the National Juvenile Justice Network’s YJAM2021 webinar: “Protect Childhood: Keep Children Out of the Youth Legal System” event (October 8, 2021)

Elizabeth Barnert guest authored a blog on the National Commission on Correctional Health Care website “Minimum Age of Prosecution of 12: What Does It Mean and Why Does it Matter?”. December 2021. 


Publish and share an analytical work mapping the leading paradigms and major conceptual shifts in the youth criminal legal system over the past decade through the three Horizon’s approach to future innovation.

Convene a series of brainstorming sessions for diverse thought leaders in Youth Justice – including community members, youth and families, practitioners, legislators, and researchers – to collaborate in envisioning the ideal future of youth justice and the optimal strategy for advancing this shared vision.

Publish and share an organizational framework for this collaborative research hub concept to propose practices that will foster and facilitate equitable research partnerships and the investment of research resources towards scaling community innovations.

Submit at least one grant(s) to pilot test a key policy and practice intervention emerging from the year 1 convening and the concept paper.

Minimum Age Resources

Racial Equity

The Criminalization of Young Children and Overrepresentation of Black Youth in the Juvenile Justice System (Abrams, Mizel, Barnert 2021)

Policy Brief: The Criminalization of Black Children: California Data and Solutions (pdf)

Long-term outcomes

What is the relationship between child incarceration and adult health outcomes? (Barnert, Abrams, Dudovitz, et al. 2019)

Child incarceration and long-term adult health outcomes: a longitudinal study (Barnert, Abrams, Tesema, et al. 2018)

National Minimum Age

Setting a US national minimum age for juvenile jurisdiction (Tolliver, Abrams, Barnert 2021)

Addressing child mental health by creating a national minimum age for juvenile justice jurisdiction (Tolliver, Bath, Abrams, Barnert 2021)

When is a child too young for juvenile court? A comparative case study of state law and implementation in six major metropolitan areas (Abrams, Barnert, Mizel, et al. 2019)

California Minimum Age

Setting a minimum age for juvenile jurisdiction in California (Barnert, Abrams, Maxson, et al. 2017)

Policy brief: Setting a minimum age for juvenile justice jurisdiction in California (pdf)

Is a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction a necessary protection? A case study in the state of California (Abrams, Barnert, Mizel, et al. 2018)

Policy brief: How young is too young for juvenile court? How California’s juvenile delinquency laws compare to other states (pdf)

Policy brief: 2015 California data on young children in the juvenile justice system (pdf)

Policy brief: Children in conflict with the law: Alternatives to prosecution in California (pdf)

Policy brief: Children in conflict with the law: Policies related to competency in California (pdf)

Policy brief: Children in conflict with the law: Policies related to capacity in California (pdf)

Canada Minimum Age

Applying a health development lens to Canada’s youth justice minimum age law (Barnert, Gallagher, Lei, Abrams 2022)

One-pager: Applying a health development lens to Canada’s youth justice minimum age law (pdf)

Video abstract: Applying a health development lens to Canada’s youth justice minimum age law (YouTube)

Collaborative partners

The Youth Justice Node is currently in development and looking for partners– if you are interested in collaborating with us, contact Node Coordinator Julia Lesnick (