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Grant funds professor’s research to support juvenile justice system, help youths build productive lives

Funding is from NSF’s distinguished Faculty Early Career Award Development Program

Portrait of ASU Assistant Professor Adam Fine.

Adam Fine, an assistant professor in the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, received a Faculty Early Career Award Development grant to study the juvenile justice system. Photo by ASU

February 24, 2023

An Arizona State University criminology and criminal justice professor is using funding from a program that recognizes worthy, early-career academics to research and test new ways to empower youth to thrive beyond the juvenile justice system.

Assistant Professor Adam Fine of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is principal investigator of the five-year study, funded by a nearly $670,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s distinguished Faculty Early Career Award Development Program.

The program supports early-career faculty with “the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF. The award recipient’s activities “should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research,” the NSF said.

Fine said news of the award was “an extreme surprise and huge honor. In our field, this is the type of award usually given to people in the ‘hard’ sciences or math.”

Fine said the juvenile justice system is set up separately from the adult system and, rather than just punish youth, it is designed to help young people become productive members of society, to hold them accountable and help them grow. But the actual system often lags behind its intended purposes, he said.

“Developmental psychology has come a long way in recent years, in youth empowerment, engaging families and promoting positive outcomes. But the system hasn’t caught up yet in many ways with the science,” Fine said. “We are taking what we’ve learned from developmental science and coming up with ways to help young persons experiencing the system that are doable, scalable and can make real impact.”

The study will develop and test an approach called the Integrated Youth Development Model (IYDM), which Fine called a novel, theoretical framework that demonstrates how interdisciplinary approaches can be integrated and distilled into a workable set of core tenets that promotes thriving among justice-involved youth.

Investigators will solicit feedback about the model from juveniles and their families and then test whether creating a set of tools that build youth empowerment, growth and youth engagement will have measurable and sustainable effects. To help enhance its impact, Fine will be collaborating with Sasha Barab, a learning scientist and professor at ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Fine is the co-author of the 2021 book "The Behavioral Code: The Hidden Ways the Law Makes Us Better … Or Worse," published by Beacon Press. It examines the theory that merely knowing one might get in trouble for doing something wrong isn’t quite enough to keep many on a straight-and-narrow path, and punishment isn’t the deterrent people often think it is.

Fine called the grant and the research he is doing “an immense honor and privilege. It’s daunting but really exciting. It provides full funding for three undergraduate students to assist, funding that is specifically earmarked for students whose identities are aligned with people who are overrepresented in the system but underrepresented in academia.”

Fine praised his colleagues and administration at the school for their strong support.

“This is something I’d never have been able to put together without their support,” he said. “They just want to help you succeed.”

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