Strategies for Addressing Length of Stay to Improve Outcomes for Youth and Communities

Lessons Learned from the Length of Stay Policy Academy


In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that youth involved in the juvenile justice system thrive best when they receive services and supports in their own homes and communities. While some system-involved youth may benefit from time-limited out-of-home care to maximize public safety and other positive outcomes, justice system professionals must always be mindful of the impact that residential placement can have on youth’s development and their ability to maintain positive connections to their families, schools, and communities.

Given the strengths of community-based approaches and research indicating a limited relationship between the length of out-of-home placements and positive outcomes, justice system leaders should
ensure that youth remain in post-adjudication facilities only for the time necessary to achieve their treatment needs. This means shaping positive and effective facility experiences for youth in an efficient manner, recognizing that some components of programming and service delivery can and should be delivered in the community. Ultimately, it is important for youth-serving practitioners to understand what research studies say about the impact of out-of-home placements, how long youth stay in these placements, the effectiveness of different services and approaches, and how to structure re-entry to facilitate timely release and support youth’s growth and well-being.

To help juvenile justice officials and partners address length of stay in post-adjudication out-of-home placements, in 2020 the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy (CJJR) and the Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators (CJJA), with funding and support from The Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew), developed and launched the Length of Stay (LOS) Policy Academy. This brief provides an overview of the information gathered and lessons learned from the LOS Policy Academy, highlighting strategies that jurisdictions may adopt to analyze and address factors that affect LOS and ultimately improve outcomes for youth and communities

Length of Stay Policy Academy

The goal of the LOS Policy Academy was to support jurisdictions in identifying and addressing key factors contributing to LOS for youth in post-adjudication placement. As part of the LOS Policy Academy, multi-disciplinary teams from five selected jurisdictions, including Bexar County, Texas; Idaho; Maryland; New York City, New York; and Oklahoma, participated in a series of virtual trainings and technical assistance (TA) activities between March 2020 and December 2021. Through this engagement, the teams explored a series of strategies related to LOS, including:

  • Using data to gain insight into factors contributing to LOS, identify disparities faced by particular populations of youth, and inform changes to policies and practices;
  • Developing and implementing fair, predictable, and structured LOS policies and accompanying practices;
  • Re-evaluating current LOS policies and practices around case planning and treatment dosage
  • Enhancing facility-based programming and treatment services;
  • Responding to youth behaviors in the facility through strength-based and developmentally appropriate approaches;
  • Bolstering re-entry planning, services, and resources;
  • Engaging and partnering with youth and families;
  • Leading agency-wide culture change around LOS and creating communication plans to promote buy-in from internal and external stakeholders.


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