The Role of Judges in Managing Juvenile Sex Offense Cases
Judges and magistrates often acknowledge that sex offense cases involving youth are among the most challenging, in part because youths’ risks and needs are unique. CEPP, in partnership with judges and experts in youth development and treatment, produced a model training curriculum for juvenile and family court judges. It provides a practical framework that local jurisdictions can use to inform and enhance judicial decision-making in these complex, high-stakes cases.
Although some specialized training opportunities existed for professionals who provided direct services to and interventions for youth who sexually offended, a comprehensive training curriculum tailored to address the specific questions and needs of juvenile and family court judges was lacking. CEPP, with support from the State Justice Institute and in partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, developed a model training curriculum that was used to deliver training in 17 states, piloted at several national judicial education events, and disseminated to every state judicial educator in the country.
The curriculum addresses youth who are generally between the ages of 12 and 17 who have come to the attention of the authorities for allegedly engaging in abusive and/or prohibited sexual behaviors, and who are ultimately adjudicated by the courts. The curriculum includes topics such as the following:
- Differences between youth and adults who commit sex offenses
- Unique considerations for judges at key decision points throughout the juvenile and family court process
- Specialized assessment, treatment, and supervision approaches from the perspective of the judiciary
- Strategies for facilitating family engagement from the bench
- Local policies and practices that are in place for juvenile sex offenders, victims of these offenses, and their families
- Various roles that the judiciary can assume in promoting effective juvenile sex offender management efforts
States using the curriculum to deliver local training are encouraged to tailor the material to align with their jurisdiction’s legislation, policies, and practices.
Under this initiative, training was conducted using the curriculum in 17 jurisdictions (Arizona; Colorado; Connecticut; Georgia; Hawaii; Indiana; Maryland; Missouri; New Mexico; North Dakota; Ohio; Oregon; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Washington, DC; and West Virginia) for hundreds of juvenile and family court judges. Ninety-eight percent of the participants in these events indicated that they would recommend this educational opportunity to their judicial colleagues.
A final version of the curriculum (including presentation slides and references) was made available to every state’s judicial educator and remains available for download. The curriculum has been downloaded from the CEPP website thousands of times since its publication.
The impact of this project has been considerable. In many jurisdictions, juvenile and family court judges are afforded considerable decision-making authority and discretion. They are uniquely positioned to ensure that the juvenile justice system responds as effectively as possible to youth being adjudicated for sex offenses. As such, judges and other key system stakeholders can derive significant benefit from the specialized information shared in the curriculum about youth who have offended sexually, their victims, and promising management practices.