Researching juvenile justice will deepen your understanding of the correctional system and juvenile offenders. A report released by the National Center for Juvenile Justice in 2013 indicated that between 1985 and 2010, the courts adjudicated about 40 million crimes committed by youth under age 18. Start by narrowing the topic down to an aspect of juvenile justice that particularly interests you. A good topic is one that you think will keep you focused and engaged in your research.

Teen Courts

Research is needed to better understand why some teen courts are more effective than others and which models work best, according to a 2011 article in the "NYSBA Journal." Teen courts are correctional diversion programs that adjudicate first-time juvenile offenders who commit minor, nonviolent offenses. Compare and contrast teen courts in different cities examining their effectiveness and structure. Note whether sanction completion and recidivism rates are lower in teen court models made up exclusively of peers versus teen court models in which a court judge oversees the proceedings.

Youth Gangs

Investigate youth involvement in gangs, defined by the National Crime Prevention Council as a group with a shared identity that’s involved in crime, particularly graffiti, property destruction, drugs and shootings. Explore reasons why increasing numbers of teenage girls are joining gangs, are reported by the NCPC. Find theories that posit reasons why certain adolescents are attracted to the gang lifestyle. Identify commonalities in the backgrounds of youth gang members, such poverty, substance use, history of abuse or exposure to violence growing up. Study programs aimed at dissuading at-risk youth from joining gangs.

Violent Juvenile Offenders

Research the psychology of children and teens accused of murder, rape, kidnapping and school violence. Investigate a possible link with untreated mental disorders. Analyze the causes of antisocial behavior and predictors of youth violence, such as early substance use, aggression and conflictual parental relationships. The authors of “Serious & Violent Juvenile Offenders” suggest that early intervention is the most effect approach to addressing this serious societal problem. Determine what strategies are most helpful in identifying potentially dangerous youth and what community treatment programs are effective.

Truancy

Investigate possible causes of truancy, such as peer influences, inconsequential school attendance policies, dislike of school or peers, teen pregnancy or mental health issues. Evaluate different models of truancy intervention programs that have effectively reduced absenteeism, improved grades and increased graduation rates. For instance, you might compare a court-ordered intervention program that assigns a social worker to assist a truant's family, with a mentoring program that pairs a truant student with a supportive older peer or a positive adult role model. Also assess the effectiveness of school penalties for truancy, including detention and suspension.