Evaluation Research, Politics and Juvenile Justice Policy

Kristin Parsons Winokur, Florida State University/
Thomas G. Blomberg, Forida State University
Spencer De Li, Florida State University

Since the inception of the juvenile justice system at the turn of the twentieth century, juvenile justice policy has rarely been guided or significantly influenced by research. Rather, policy has been determined largely by functional necessities related to workloads, scarce organizational resources, and/or political/philosophical shifts, such as the current call for increasingly tough penalties for troubled youths. The state of public policy in juvenile justice education is not very different. Often driven by little more than common sense and political motivations, very few initiatives are designed to address the unique circumstances of schools in secure settings. Facing issues of overcrowding, understaffing, tough love, and economy of scale, policies are frequently at odds with and cross purposes to addressing delinquent youths' academic and vocational needs. This paper examines the politics of informing juvenile justice education policies through a discussion of our longitudinal research findings and corresponding efforts to effect change. Working from a theoretical foundation based upon social control and the life course paradigm, we discuss the Juvenile Justice Educational Enhancement Program's (JJEEP) research and experiences with the variable role of politics related to privatization and the tough love and economy of scale rationales for larger and more custodial juvenile institutions. The discussion demonstrates that by maintaining an overriding commitment to its evaluation research purpose, JJEEP has been able to continue its data-driven policy efforts despite operating in a politically charged environment.

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Updated 05/20/2006