Blog: Family Involvement

New York Approves Close-to-Home Care for Teen Offenders

Late Tuesday night, the New York Senate, Assembly and Governor agreed on the 2012-13 budget, which includes an innovative new juvenile justice program.
The “Close to Home” initiative, which would allow New York City to place low and mid-level juvenile delinquents in treatment programs in or near New York City, rather than in facilities hundreds of miles away in upstate New York, was included in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s original budget proposal. The Senate and Assembly, however, first had to approve the measure and pass budgets that included it.
Beginning in September of 2012, youth otherwise placed in non-secure facilities will now be placed in New York City-administered programs and facilities. Youth from limited-secure facilities will be placed in City programs beginning in April of 2013.
These categories of youth in New York are usually tried for misdemeanors or non-violent felonies. When they are sent to facilities far upstate, they are often placed a great distance from their families and communities. This distance from support networks correlates with dismal outcomes—youth recidivism among offenders released from state facilities is over 80 percent after three years. Furthermore, the cost exceeds $250,000 per year, giving taxpayers little return on a high investment.

What Realignment of CA's Juvenile System Could Mean for Families

Last month, California's Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO), joined the growing momentum for Governor Brown's juvenile realignment proposal with a report explaining the potential financial incentives. While advocates and pollicy groups continue to call for realignment and the de-incarceration of the juvenile system, it's important to take a step back and hear from the families with children in the system. 

In an interview with Turnstyle News, Sumayyah Waheed, director of the Ella Baker Center's Books Not Bars campaign, explains why the current system is making it difficult for families to stay connected with their kids, which in turn makes it more difficult for the kids to rehabilitate:

New Siblings Brain Study Sheds Light on Addiction

A new study published this week in Science, suggests that addicts have inherited abnormalities in some parts of the brain, which interfere with impulse control.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge examined 50 pairs of biological siblings (in which one sibling was addicted to cocaine or amphetamines and the other was not) against a control group of 50 healthy, drug free and non-related volunteers. First they tested the self-control levels and then performed brain scans. What they found could have big implications for the prevention and treatment of substance abuse and addiction. 
From Science:

Much to the researchers' surprise, the siblings who didn't use drugs performed as poorly on the test as the ones who did. All of the sibling pairs did worse than the healthy controls, the team reports in the 3 February issue of Science.
Brain scans also showed that both members of the sibling pairs had abnormal interconnections between parts of the brain that exert control and those involved with drive and reward. Some individual brain structures were abnormal as well; the putamen, which plays a key role in habit formation, was larger in the siblings than in control subjects, as was the medial temporal lobe, which is involved in learning and memory. Because these anomalies appeared in the siblings but not in the unrelated controls, Ersche believes the finding provides a measurable, biological basis for vulnerability to addiction.

Keeping Locked-Up Kids and their Families Connected

Arizona’s Legislature recently passed a law charging prison visitors a onetime $25 fee as a way to help close the state’s $1.6 billion budget deficit. Middle Ground Prison Reform, a prison advocacy group, challenged the law in court as a discriminatory tax, but a county judge upheld its constitutionality.
Fees like that, slapped on prisoners and their families, couldn’t be more counterintuitive. But then again, so many of our criminal justice policies are just that. Since it is mostly the poor, the desperately poor who fill U.S. prisons, the $25 fee is one more economic hardship offenders’ families have to struggle with. It becomes another bill they have to scramble to pay — that is if they can.
These kinds of charges (and Arizona isn’t the only jurisdiction trying to shift the cost of incarceration to the poor) have even graver consequences. When a family can’t pay the fee, their contact with their loved one is limited, essentially cutting an offender off from the only supports he or she has in the outside world.
Psychologists have long known how central it is for an individual to have nurturing people in his or her life in order to develop emotionally, psychologically and socially. This need for a supportive network is even more essential when we talk about the young people who are locked away from family and loved ones in our nation’s prisons and detention centers.
As anyone who has worked with kids in the penal system knows on a gut level, it is crucial to have families and other supportive community members involved in young offenders’ lives as they serve their time. Now, that commonsense intuition has been given empirical strength by studies done by such juvenile justice groups as the Vera Institute of Justice which have demonstrated that maintaining young people’s connection to families is a major factor in helping kids stay out of jail once they are released.
But it’s easy to question whether these families are really such a positive influence. After all, if they were doing such a great job what are their kids doing in jail?

New Teen Substance Abuse PSAs Focus on Parents

The Partnership at recently teamed up with Energy BBDO to release a new set of PSAs warning about the harmful effects of drug and alcohol abuse by adolescents. Unlike previous campaigns, these videos focus specifically on parents' behavior and call on parents to intervene instead of enabling their child's destructive behaviors.


2011's top 20 stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse, part 1

2011 was quite a year for Reclaiming Futures Every Day. To help jog your memory of all of our great and on-going discussions, I've compiled a list of the top 20 most popular blog posts from the past year. Some of these posts were published in previous years, but continued to be read and discussed and are still relevant today. 
I'm starting off with the first five, in order of reverse popularity:

#20. Juvenile Justice System: How much are evidence-based practices worth?
Program evaluator Linda Wagner used data analysis to explain why investing in evidence-based practices is the best way to achieve significant cuts in crime and their associated costs.
#19. Juvenile Justice reform: Tell the right story & keep going!
This blog's founder, Benjamin Chambers, said farewell and called on readers to continue their important discussions and work in the juvenile justice arena.
#18. Speaking in a loud voice: A juvenile probation officer makes documentary about sex trafficking
We interviewed an Oregon juvenile probation officer about "Your American Teen," his documentary that looks at sex trafficking and American teens.
#17. Dr. Jeffrey Butts on positive youth development in juvenile justice (video interview)
Dr. Jeffrey Butts explained the meaning of "positive youth development" and how it can help youth in the juvenile justice system.
#16. How to raise a drug-free kid: The straight dope for parents
Joseph A. Califano, Jr. explained the importance of speaking with kids about drugs while they are still young and emphasized the role of parents in prevention.

Texas county debuts new diversion program for teens

Tarrant County, Texas (where Fort Worth is located) has developed a new program for juvenile offenders that is aimed at youth charged with family violence involving non-intimate relatives. The program, the Youth Offender Diversion Alternative, or YODA, targets youth 17-25 who are charged with such crimes, and it provides intensive counseling to show participants how to make better choices in stressful situations or arguments. If the juvenile completes the program, the charges are dismissed and erased from his or her record.
The program is currently funded through a private grant from the Amon G. Carter Foundation. Public-private partnerships like this are often well-positioned to experiment with creative policy approaches while also limiting costs to taxpayers.
At this point, the 20 graduates of YODA have not committed another offense, and a preliminary study shows decreased aggression and substance abuse problems among participants. The participants also exhibit improvements in mental health and stability. So far, the program provides a reason to be optimistic.

Arguing with parents helps teens stand up to peer pressure

A new study from the University of Virgina found that teens who are comfortable expressing their opinions at home are better able to resist peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol. 
As Science Newsline explains:

The researchers looked at more than 150 teens and their parents, a group that was racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. The teens were studied at ages 13, 15, and 16 to gather information on substance use, interactions with moms, social skills, and close friendships. Researchers used not just the youths' own reports, but information from parents and peers. They also observed teens' social interactions with family members and peers.
They found that teens who hold their own in family discussions were better at standing up to peer influences to use drugs or alcohol. Among the best protected were teens who had learned to argue well with their moms about such topics as grades, money, household rules, and friends. Arguing well was defined as trying to persuade their mothers with reasoned arguments, rather than with pressure, whining, or insults.


Sheriff investigator makes a difference in kids’ lives and more -- news roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • South Carolina County Sheriff investigator makes a difference in kids’ lives
    Richland County sheriff investigator Cassie Radford is working hard to get troubled kids the services they need and to keep them out of jail. The grant that funds Radford's position is in its third year and ends Sept. 30. Richland County prosecutors and judges hope Sheriff Leon Lott finds a way to keep Radford in her position.
  • Missouri juvenile office to use electronic monitoring
    The expense of sending Linn County’s juvenile offenders elsewhere, coupled with the strict criteria that must be met to detain a juvenile, has prompted the Linn County Juvenile Office to obtain electronic monitoring equipment. Without a juvenile detention center of its own, the Linn County Juvenile Office has been forced to pay the expense of transporting offenders as well as the cost for a bed in Kirksville’s Bruce Normile Juvenile Justice Center.
  • New goal for Illinois juvenile center: Clear it out
    Cook County’s Board President is advocating a new approach for the county’s juvenile justice system: empty the juvenile detention facility by putting children in group homes, monitored home confinement and other community-based programs where advocates say young people have better opportunities for counseling, job training and other life-skill instruction.
  • Kentucky launches pilot program to decrease juvenile detentions
    Henderson schools, law enforcement and court officials joined forces with the state to examine why so many teens were being incarcerated. They came up with a pilot program to combat the issue. It includes asking schools to deal with small offenses, instituting a mentor program and encouraging teachers and school officials to meet to review statistics on disciplinary action.
  • Washington, DC’s juvenile justice system sees real change
    As part of sweeping reforms, DC’s Oak Hill was closed in 2009 and replaced by a smaller and dramatically different facility named New Beginnings Youth Development Center. Youth Radio interviewed DC Lawyers for Youth executive director Daniel Okonkwo about Oak Hill’s impact on DC’s juvenile justice system.
  • Wisconsin critics: Stop treating 17-year-olds as adults
    Wisconsin is one of 13 states that automatically place 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system. In the past few years, almost one-third of states have passed laws to keep more young offenders in the juvenile justice system. Now officials and families are calling on the state to place 17-year-olds in juvenile facilities, mainly for their own safety.
  • Benton County’s juvenile center nearly finished
    Arkansas’ Benton County's Juvenile Justice Center is nearly complete, with part of the $6 million complex scheduled to open in January. The new facility is twice as large as the current one and will include classrooms and a courtroom in addition to holding cells.

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment

Helping teens in detention during the holidays

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2010, but we thought you might find it useful.juvenile-justice-system_scraggly-tree-with-one-christmas-bulb-institutional-setting
We know that teens in the juvenile justice system generally have better outcomes when they're connected with their families while they're detained or incarcerated. During the holidays, their feelings of isolation and despair are magnified (and their family members often feel the same way). 
It can make all the difference to have someone remember them during the holidays, and it can be a great opportunity to partner with community organizations. 
Don't know what to do?  Then check out this excellent Holiday Toolkit from the Campaign for Youth Justice. (Be patient - I find the PDF can take a while to load.) It can help you plan:

  • a party or special event at the detention facility (or wherever the youth are locked up);
  • a holiday gift-giving event;
  • a walk-through of the facility by legislators or local policy makers; or
  • a holiday-card campaign.

It's even got sample language for cards, invitations, and a media advisory.  Try it -- and let us know how it goes!

When home for Thanksgiving is nothing more than a dream for a boy and his mom

I know a woman in Tennessee whose son was just sent to a youth detention center. He has had some problems with petty crime and drugs, and was sent to a treatment program for kids awhile back. He did not adapt very well to the program, and now he has been sent to this YDC for an indefinite period. He is 17 and the state can hold him until he is 21 if authorities decide he is not ready to be released.
She is trying to figure out how she can go see him for Thanksgiving. He is housed several hours away, and she doesn’t have a reliable vehicle to get her there. She is hoping the boy’s father, who lives in another town, will be willing to take her. Maybe he will.
This is her Thanksgiving.
There is something about the holiday season that makes these situations especially poignant for me. When I was on the inside, holidays weren’t so bad. Often the prisoners would come together and make meals, and guys would normally be a little nicer. We were all missing our families, and somehow that drew us together a little more than during the rest of the year. Somehow we were able to humanize one another a little more.
It’s only been since my release in December of 2009 that I have seen the other side of this story. For the families on the outside it is not a better time of year. When they gather around the table to eat a big meal and celebrate life there is a conspicuous absence. There is a gaping hole where their loved one should be.

Back to the Future: Engaging Families of Youth in the Justice System (VIDEO)

juvenile-justice-system_Emmitt-HayesI met Emmitt Hayes about 10 years ago, when I first learned about Reclaiming Futures. He had led Travis County, TX through a project funded inthe mid-1990s by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) -- a project that laid the groundwork for Reclaiming Futures. (Interestingly, Travis County, TX is one of our newest sites.)
In the decade since, he's continued to serve Reclaiming Futures as a valued advisor, sharing --  with humor and humility -- his uncompromising commitment to youth and famlies caught up in the juvenile justice system.
When I saw him at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute in Miami in May 2011, I asked him to talk with me a little about what he saw as the most important next step in implementing Reclaming Futures. He reflected briefly on his thirty years of working with youth in the justice system and observed that family engagement was the key to success when he started, and it's still the key, despite years of focus on evidence-based practices in treatment.
But heck, I'll let him tell it. After all, he's a lot more inspiring than I:

One Parent's Advice for the Juvenile Justice System

juvenile-justice-system_Sharon-Smith-MOMSTELLjuvenile-justice-system_AngieSharon Smith’s daughter Angela died in 1998 of a heroin overdose. She was 18 years old. For four years before her death, Angie (see photo, left) was in and out of 11 treatment centers, stood before a half dozen judges, and lived at one juvenile detention center. 
Sharon (shown at right) formed MOMSTELL in 2000 to advocate for more effective, accessible drug treatment and greater family involvement across the continuum of care and in the policy-making process. “Because no family should have to face the disease of addiction alone,” MOMSTELL is committed to identifying and removing barriers to treatment, many of which Sharon encountered when trying to find help for her daughter. 
Sharon was one of the organizers of the "national dialogue" sponsored in 2009 by SAMHSA for Families of Youth with Substance Use Disorders. Here, she illustrates some of those barriers specific to juvenile justice.

Families of Youth with Substance Use Disorders: A National Dialogue

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_national-family-dialogue-report-coverReclaiming Futures just sponsored a webinar by Dr. Howard Liddle on the clinical importance of working with the families of teens in the justice system as well as the young people themselves -- follow the link to listen to the webinar or download the slides -- but family involvement is critical in other areas as well, from program planning to policy-making. 
And as it happens, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is seeking comments on its proposed changes to its block grants (including target populations) -- comments are due this Friday, June 3, 2011 -- so it seems like a good time to remind everyone that in 2009, SAMHSA convened a group of family members from all across the country to look at barriers to their involvement, opportunities for change, and to make recommendations for improvement. 

NEW DATE - Webinar: Why and How to Work with Families of Justice-Involved Adolescents

I doubt that there is an influence on the development of antisocial behavior among young people that is stronger than that of the family. (Steinberg, 2000)[i]
The most successful programs are those that emphasize family interactions, probably because they focus on providing skills to the adults who are in the best position to supervise and train the child. (Greenwood, 2009)[ii]
adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_compassThanks to many independent reviews, consensus documents, and meta-analyses of the evidence base on how to work effectively with juvenile offenders, there are numerous signs that the specialty has achieved a certain level of maturity.[iii]
A significant part of this new generation of work in the field pertains to the accumulated and rigorously derived findings about the role of families, family relationships, and parenting practices as key aspects of the creation and maintenance,[iv] as well as the reversal of antisocial and other problem behaviors.[v]
For some time, we’ve “known” that it can be beneficial to involve families more substantively and consistently in working with juvenile offenders, as evidenced in this quote: “In this era of an increased focus on public sector accountability, one of the important questions posed to policymakers and elected officials may be ‘Why are you waiting so long to support families?’ ” (Duchnowski, Hall, Kutash, & Friedman, 1998[vi]).

How to Help Families of Teens with Drug Problems - A CRAFT Training

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_cactus-needles-close-upHere's the problem with adolescent substance abuse treatment: young people who are using want nothing to do with it.
How can you help? You can help their family members get them into treatment.  
Sound simple? We all know it's anything but. So here's your chance to learn a clincally-backed protocol for helping families of youth (and adults) with serious drug and alcohol issues. According to studies done so far, family members who participate the Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) get between 64% and 86% of their loved ones into treatment -- and they're more likely to stay engaged once they get there. 
Now's your chance to learn CRAFT:
Chestnut Health Systems is hosting a CRAFT training session with its creator, Dr. Robert J. Meyers (who was also involved in creation of the Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach, which is aimed at teens). He'll be leading the CRAFT training September 19-21, 2011, at Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington-Normal, IL; registration instructions are here.  Questions? Email Kelli Wright at Chestnut. 

UPDATE August 1, 2011 - The training scheduled for September 2011 has been cancelled. 

The National Parent Caucus; Meeting the Needs of Forgotten Families

juvenile-justice-reform_forget-backwardsBeginning in 1998, with my son's first arrest at the age of 12, I embarked on a journey that I was ill-equipped to handle. When I gave birth to my children, I had high hopes and dreams for them -- this arrest and the succeeding problems that lay ahead for him were never a part of those hopes and dreams.
I, like most family members who find themselves involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, was incredibly naive and made decisions based on what system professionals told me, never considering that it wasn't their job to help my son. Those decisions set a predictable course for my son, for those with knowledge and understanding, that would leave him emotionally and physically scarred for the rest of his life. I made those decisions without an understanding of what they meant for him or a conception of what it meant to have a "system-involved" child.  For the next three years, I walked this path alone in confusion and isolation. 

I sat through meetings where professionals talked about my son and I said nothing, because they presented themselves as the experts and seldom asked me anything. I sat in court rooms in front of a judge without an attorney or advocate, because I was told an attorney would only slow down my son getting the help he needed, and I believed this lie to be the truth. I sat outside the court house on the day my son was adjudicated as a delinquent and sent to a far-off facility because my legs would not carry me away from my baby, and still believed that I had done what was right. I sat by the phone for days, awaiting a call from the facility to inform me of where my son would be placed and when I would be able to visit.

Apply Now for NJJN Youth Justice Leadership Institute

"It's important that people really do understand that this void in [juvenile justice reform] leadership really is a hindrance ..."
-Diana Onley-Campbell, Program Manager, NJJN Youth Justice Leadership Institute
The National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) is seeking applicants for its new Youth Justice Leadership Institute. For a quick introduction to what the institute is and why it's critical to juvenile justice reform, check out my 6-minute interview with Ms. Onley-Campbell above, conducted in December, 2010. (Sorry the audio isn't quite in synch - I'm having extended technical difficulties - but I figured it worked well enough to get the point across.)

National Parent Caucus - 2011 Meeting Schedule

juvenile-justice-reform_woman-on-phoneAre you a parent of a teen in the juvenile justice system (or even the adult justice system)? Or do you work with parents who would be interested in connecting with other parents around the country on reforming the juvenile justice system? 
Then check out the National Parent Caucus. Run by the Campaign for Youth Justice, the caucus meets by phone on the first Thursday of every month 1 pm PST / 4 pm CST / 5 pm EST.  For call-in information, follow the link to get on the email list. 

Helping Teens in Detention Through the Holidays

juvenile-justice-system_scraggly-tree-with-one-christmas-bulb-institutional-settingWe know that teens in the juvenile justice system generally have better outcomes when they're connected with their families while they're detained or incarcerated. During the holidays, their feelings of isolation and despair are magnified (and their family members often feel the same way). 
It can make all the difference to have someone remember them during the holidays, and it can be a great opportunity to partner with community organizations. 
Don't know what to do?  Then check out this excellent Holiday Toolkit from the Campaign for Youth Justice. (Be patient - I find the PDF can take a while to load.) It can help you plan:

  • a party or special event at the detention facility (or wherever the youth are locked up);
  • a holiday gift-giving event;
  • a walk-through of the facility by legislators or local policy makers; or
  • a holiday-card campaign.

It's even got sample language for cards, invitations, and a media advisory.  Try it -- and let us know how it goes!