Blog: Evidence-Based Practices

Girls and Opioids: Vulnerabilities & Opportunities

In two separate blog posts in 2016, we discussed opioid use rates and substance use issues among adolescent girls involved with juvenile justice. In July 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health (OWH) released a report on opioid use, misuse, and overdose in women. The report provides information on the gender-specific issues and gaps in knowledge regarding females with substance use concerns/disorders. The report discusses the differences among females and males regarding the progression of substance use, the biological, social, and cultural issues (e.g., pain; relationships; family/parenting; trauma, determinants of health), effective treatments and barriers to implementation, and areas for further research. As it relates to adolescent girls (ages 12-17 years old), the report indicates they are more likely to use and become dependent on non-medical uses of prescription drugs as compared to adolescent boys. Access to prescription drugs can come from a home medicine cabinet and may help relieve mental health or physical pain symptoms and/or be part of their peer culture.

2017 Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning, Gender Nonconforming and Transgender (LGBQ/GNCT) Youth Involved with Juvenile Justice

Since joining Reclaiming Futures, I have listened to the open meetings of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ). Supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), FACJJ (pronounced FAC Jay) members are individuals appointed to State Advisory Groups. Created in 2002, FACJJ members are responsible for having knowledge of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and to encourage state compliance with the four core protections:

What’s in a Number? Age Considerations in Justice Decisions

Research shows that adolescents have a high propensity for engaging in risk taking activities given the significant changes in neurology, biology, and other developmental issues (e.g., social; cultural; familial) they experience. Specifically related to decision-making, science shows the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain is underdeveloped until a young person is well into their 20’s.  With these findings in mind, how should this influence the way we think about key juvenile justice policies and practices like the age of juvenile jurisdiction?

Collaboration in Action: Reclaiming Futures Teams Up with Pathways Transition Training Partnership to Host a Joint Webinar

Collaboration. A word we use a lot at Reclaiming Futures. Why? Because based on our fifteen years of working in jurisdictions across the country, collaboration can be an impactful catalyst for change. While the National Office puts collaboration into action regularly it was recently visibly demonstrated.

As you may know, Reclaiming Futures is part of the Regional Research Institute (RRI) at Portland State University. We are affiliated with such efforts as the National Wraparound InitiativeThe Center to Advance Racial Equity, and Pathways Transition Training Partnership (PTTP). A few months ago, Evan Elkin, Christa Myers and I began conversations with Drs. Eileen Brennan and Pauline Jivanjee of PTTP to develop a joint webinar. Both groups understand the importance of collaboration between stakeholders in juvenile justice settings to improve the health and wellness of young people with substance use and/or mental health concerns. However, our focus for the webinar did not become immediately clear. We spent time examining our commonalities to decide the best topic for diverse fields and individuals (e.g., juvenile justice; behavioral health; community members). We decided to emphasize our respective work in the area of evidence-based practices.

A Must Read - Reclaiming Futures and Organizing Justice for Drug-Using Youth

Researchers from John Jay College of Criminal Justice (John Jay) have been involved in evaluating Reclaiming Futures since its inception. Beginning in 2002, Jeffrey Butts, PhD and colleagues began studying the relationship between the Reclaiming Futures’ system-level change approach and the way stakeholders across all the inter-connected systems in juvenile justice settings perceive the effectiveness of their system of care and the delivery of services to youth. In his approach, Dr. Butts examined variables in key domains like administration, collaboration and quality. While no evaluation is perfect, the work Butts and colleagues did to begin to quantify system-level change variables in a meaningful way was quite original and generated useful information for Reclaiming Futures and the field.  The initial evaluation results were also helpful in guiding subsequent evaluations by The University of ArizonaChestnut Health Systems, and Carnevale Associates, LLC.

Recovery Support Services for Youth and Families

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and the April issue of The Atlantic features a story titled - “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous” by Gabriella Glaser. The article sheds light on the recovery support service of 12-step programs through interviews with research and practice experts and personal testimonials.

NASADAD Releases a State Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Practice Guide

The National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, Inc. (NASADAD) “…purpose is to foster and support the development of effective alcohol and other drug abuse prevention and treatment programs throughout every State.” NASADAD has recently achieved this purpose by the development of the State Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Practice Guide (see link below).

Science of Adolescent Development Continues to Inform Juvenile Justice System

Over the past decade, state and local jurisdictions have been actively developing strategies to reduce both recidivism and spending in their juvenile justice systems. Many also seek to ensure that every youth who comes in contact with the system is met with procedural fairness at every stage of the justice system. To help accomplish these goals, juvenile justice leaders are examining and applying research and recommendations outlined in Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach, a seminal report released by National Research Council in 2012. This report provides an extensive review of decades of research on juvenile justice programs and practices.
To read more, visit the Justice Center website >> 

Growing Evidence for Link Between Experience in Detention and Recidivism in Teens

Young people in the juvenile justice system who have an overall positive experience are 49 percent less likely to continue committing crimes, according to arrest and/or return-to-placement reports.
Two recent research briefs, “What Youths Say Matters” [PDF] and “Reducing Isolation and Room Confinement,” [PDF] by the Performance Based Standards Learning Institute (PbSLi) suggest that there is a direct, and strong, link between the quality of a teen’s time in detention and their likelihood to commit new offenses:
The latest PbSLi brief, “What Youths Say Matters,” focuses on the recent study, Pathways to Desistance, which is regarded as the most comprehensive longitudinal study of youths in the juvenile justice system.
The Pathways researchers interviewed around 1,400 youths in Philadelphia and Phoenix over a seven-year period observing what makes youths continue—or stop—committing crimes.
This study demonstrated that teens’ experiences in custody impact their future choices. The two main conclusions of the report include the following:

  1. What youths say matters; youths tell us ways we can help prevent them from continuing to commit crimes; and
  2. Asking young people is a valid, cost-effective way to find out what we need to know to prevent future crime.

RECLAIM Ohio: A Promising Alternative to Teen Incarceration

PEW recently published a report revealing the effectiveness of the RECLAIM (Reasoned and Equitable Community and Local Alternatives to Incarceration of Minors) funding initiative in Ohio. The report found RECLAIM to be highly successful in lowering recidivism rates and saving the state millions of dollars:

RECLAIM is an initiative funding program that allows county courts to implement community based programs in order to provide alternatives to juvenile incarceration for juvenile offenders or youth at risk of offending. The increased funding for counties is based on an equation that refunds counties for the time juvenile offenders would have spent if they had been committed to the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) state facility.
Like many states in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Ohio saw an increase in the incarcerated youth population. By 1992, the state reached an all-time high of 180 percent of capacity with many of the youth being first-time nonviolent offenders. The idea was that by better serving low to medium risk offenders through locally tailored community programs, admissions would decrease as well as recidivism rates.

Washington One of Nation's 'Comeback States' on Juvenile Justice; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Accouncement: Website Launch
    New website launches for Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT), providing help for adolescents and families.
  • Washington One of Nation's 'Comeback States' on Juvenile Justice (
    Washington’s juvenile detention population dropped 40% between 2001 and 2010, according to a new report released Tuesday by the National Juvenile Justice Network. The analysis puts Washington among nine “comeback states” on the issue of juvenile justice.
  • Ted Cox has Faith in the Youth he Serves (
    Retired Army Reserve Col. Ted Cox arm wrestles an inmate at the Caddo Parish Juvenile Justice Complex, where he is the administrator. He regularly counsels the youth there.
  • Zero Tolerance and Juvenile Justice: A View from the Bench (Alaska Justice Forum)
    "The factors that lead youth into juvenile crime are many and varied. Drugs, alcohol, and interpersonal violence are often cited as major contributors. However, in my estimation, one of the principal factors that may often precipitate a plunge into the juvenile justice system is the failure to maintain and succeed in school."

Vera Releases New Guide for Evidence-Based Practice

The Vera Institute of Justice recently released a handbook to help a wide range of social service practitioners, in juvenile justice and beyond. The new document, "Measuring Success: A Guide to Becoming an Evidence-Based Practice," breaks the process into three steps and offers an easy-to-follow methodology to measuring performance.
Vera offers guidance in determining who qualifies as evidence-based, which can be helpful for funding. Vera's announcement continues:

Demonstrating that a program accomplishes its stated goals is increasingly important for social service organizations—funders and clients want to see the evidence of successful outcomes. Although a full-scale evaluation can be a costly and overwhelming goal, adopting the information-gathering and self-reflective approaches that lead up to an evaluation can in themselves strengthen an agency’s focus and procedural fidelity.
Vera has worked with juvenile justice system service providers in many settings as they build and monitor their programs. It produced this handbook on the basis of experience in the field, and in collaboration with the Institute for Public Health and Justice at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
While the guide grew out of requests from juvenile justice service providers for a roadmap toward becoming an evidence-based practice, its recommendations have applications beyond juvenile justice. “We believe the systematic approach to collecting information on goals, treatment methods, and outcomes can benefit other social service providers seeking to measure the efficacy of their interventions,” said Annie Salsich, director of Vera’s Center on Youth Justice.

New Report: Moving Forward to End Mass Incarceration

The Sentencing Project recently released a report examining the history and impact of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). The JRI is an evidence based approach to improve public safety, reduce incarcerations and reinvest savings to enhance neighborhoods. So far, it has supported 27 states in the last decade. While the JRI has made progress, the report, “Ending Mass Incarceration [PDF],” offers a note of caution:

Our analysis, described in the pages that follow, lead us to the conclusion that while JRI has played a significant role in softening the ground and moving the dial on mass incarceration reform, it is not an unmitigated success story; the picture is complex and nuanced.

It argues that the expansion of correctional control has not occurred accidentally, but as a result of deliberate policy choices that have increased the number of people entering the system and how long they stay. Although there have been some problems with the JRI since it was originally catalyzed, The Sentencing Project is enthusiastic about where it will go from here.
The report emphasizes the impact that JRI could have moving forward through four recommendations:

  1. Reduce all forms of incarceration and correctional supervision (probation/parole).
  2. Reinvest in high incarceration communities.
  3. Involve stakeholders and non-governmental entities at the state and local levels throughout the planning, legislative, implementation and reinvestment process.
  4. Create a multi-year plan and course for implementation and evaluation beyond short-term legislative or policy fixes.

Risk Assessment in Juvenile Justice: A Guidebook for Implementation

The University of Massachusetts Medical School’s National Youth Screening & Assessment Project recently published “Risk Assessment in Juvenile Justice: A Guidebook for Implementation.” This guidebook looks at research evidence and provides a framework for selecting and implementing an evidence-based tool to help reduce risks associated with teens’ placement and supervision while involved with the juvenile justice system. Via the report:

The primary purpose of this Guide is to provide a structure for jurisdictions, juvenile probation or centralized statewide agencies striving to implement risk assessment or to improve their current risk assessment practices. Risk assessment in this Guide refers to the practice of using a structured tool that combines information about youth to classify them as being low, moderate or high risk for reoffending or continued delinquent activity, as well as identifying factors that might reduce that risk on an individual basis.
The purpose of such risk assessment tools is to help in making decisions about youths’ placement and supervision, and creating intervention plans that will reduce their level of risk.

A Community Approach to Juvenile Justice

This Fall, the Adler School Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice (IPSSJ) and its partner organizations with the Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force published a concept paper (PDF download) outlining community-based, trauma-informed, restorative solutions to youth crime and conflict in Cook County, Illinois. The report provides guiding thoughts on how the juvenile justice system can better support young people while making communities safer. It also recommends alternatives to existing centralized juvenile detention approaches in Cook County.
The Adler School IPSSJ paper reports that the majority of juvenile justice dollars are spent in only a few zip codes. By using community approaches to juvenile justice, the Adler School argues that the county could get a much higher return on investment, along with lowering the risk currently posed by teen crime. Via the report:

...if the county does not reinvest these dollars in the communities of greatest need, it is asking residents of those areas to assume substantial additional risks to their safety without funding the types of programs and initiatives that could effectively manage those risks. This is a very real danger. As we all labor to design the best possible future for juvenile justice in Cook County, we would like your help keeping the above ideas and concerns at the forefront of the process. We know fundamental change will take years to responsibly develop; yet the time to begin the work is now.

Implementing Evidence-Based Programs for Justice-Involved Teens

A recent report from the Association for the Advancement of Evidence-Based Practice demonstrates strong evidence to support shifting resources to evidence-based programs (EBPs) in delinquency prevention or intervention, or those proven to produce substantial reductions in recidivism and crime. Despite this, according to the report,

Although there are sufficient resources currently invested in juvenile justice programs to provide a program that has been proven effective for every youth who could use one, less than 10 percent of youths in need actually receive these programs.

To address this and improve the availability and quality of EBPs, the report, Implementing Proven Programs For Juvenile Offenders: Assessing State Progress, examined the top five states in terms of proven programs (Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine and New Mexico) for commonalities that could guide other states.
Key similarities found in the study included:

  • Structured involvement of all key stakeholders: requiring the cooperation of many state and local agencies, including state departments, law enforcement, and school systems, in programs
  • Development of local expertise: identifying at least one person to become fully informed about the available EBP options and allotting time for them to do this
  • Pilot testing of new EBPs: picking one or two sites in which to test the program models selected as the best to suit their needs
  • Creation of information resource centers: establishing sites with staff acting to bridge the science of EBPs (assessment instruments, training consultant etc.) and the practitioners
  • Designation of small number of EBPs to be supported by state: starting out supporting just one EBP and slowly adding additional programs
  • Special funding for designated EBPs: enlisting state support for important but non-revenue producing pre-implementation aspects of a new EBP
  • Technical assistance to counties for needs assessment, program selection and implementation

Most Popular Juvenile Justice Blog Posts | October 2012

Did you miss some of our blog posts last month? Not to worry - here's a round-up of our most popular posts from October 2012.
10. [NEW REPORT] Community Solutions for Youth in Trouble
Over the past few years, Texas has shifted youth rehabilitation from large state-run facilities to smaller community programs. And they're seeing great results.
9. October is National Youth Justice Awareness Month
Last month, over 20 states are holding events to raise awareness about youth justice issues and the juvenile justice system.
8. 7 Core Principles to Change the Course of Youth Justice
A new article from the New York Law School Law Review examines problems with the juvenile justice system and offers solutions for a more productive youth justice system.
7. NC Teens, Police, Community Join Forces to Stop Bullying Epidemic 
Recognizing the need to address bullying in schools, young people in North Carolina partnered with police officers and community members to create a short movie against bullying.

Minnesota Reports on Disproportionate Minority Contact in its Juvenile Justice System

Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs has been researching Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) in their state in order to better understand why minority youth have contact with the juvenile justice system at different rates than white youth. Their new report, “Disproportionate Minority Contact in Minnesota’s Juvenile Justice System,” is an exhaustive investigation measuring DMC in Minnesota, along with strategies for reducing it.
Disproportionate Minority Contact is often dismissed by people not involved with the juvenile justice system with the thought that minority youth commit more crimes than white youth. The data, however, suggests otherwise. Via the report:

While data suggest white youth and youth of color may have different rates of offending for some crimes, the levels of disparity observed are too great to be explained by differences in youth offending patterns alone. Furthermore, once youth of color are in the system, research reveals they receive harsher consequences than white youth with similar offenses and criminal histories.

The report continues with an explanation of why DMC may be occurring:

A host of factors potentially contribute to disparate rates of justice system contact for youth of color. These include the inequitable distribution of resources in communities, bias within the policies and practices of juvenile justice agencies, and underlying social conditions of communities, particularly poverty.

Tough Times For Girls In Juvenile Justice System and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Kids Count Report Demonstrates New Jersey’s Successes In Juvenile Justice (
    Advocates for Children of New Jersey today released a special juvenile justice Kids Count report entitled, “Measuring Change in New Jersey’s Treatment of Young Offenders.” The report details the successful reforms in juvenile justice since the implementation of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) in New Jersey.
  • Tough Times For Girls In Juvenile Justice System (
    [AUDIO STORY] The number of boys locked up for crimes has dropped over the past decade, but the number of young women detained in jails and residential centers has moved in the other direction. Experts say girls make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system, with more than 300,000 arrests and criminal charges every year.
  • Common Sense Discipline In Denver Schools (
    Between 2009 and 2011, enrollment in Denver schools rose six percent. But even with an increased number of students, expulsions dropped 44 percent, from 185 to 104. That’s because the school district has adopted alternatives to zero-tolerance, such as restorative justice and conflict resolution, which seek to defuse and resolve disciplinary issues before they rise to a level demanding expulsion.
  • South Dakota Counties Export Effective Juvenile Justice (
    Minnehaha and Pennington County, in South Dakota, have dropped juvenile detention rates by one-third and one-half, respectively, in just two years. Now the rest of the state is hoping to follow their lead.