Blog: Juvenile Justice Reform
Rounding up the latest news on youth justice reform and national public health.
A Recording of the Family Cengtered Strategies in Juvenile Court webinar is now available.
Family Centered Strategies in Juvenile Court Featuring Members of the Reclaiming Futures National Program Mon. Nov. 20, 2017 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM PST Register now for this November webinar featuring Jerry Stollings, a Reclaiming Futures Project Director from Williams County in Northwest Ohio; with an introduction by Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Evan Elkin.
In August, 2017, Dr. Angela Irvine released an important report examining new data on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning, Gender Nonconforming, and Transgender (LGBQ/GNCT) Youth in the Justice System. Here is a conversation between Reclaiming Futures Executive Director Evan Elkin and Dr. Irvine on the new report.
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:
Nearly two decades ago, our nation’s juvenile justice system began to slowly shift the way we think about young people. The prevailing punitive and heavily racialized narrative about justice-involved youth that produced the infamous term “super-predator” has gradually given way to a new, more humanistic narrative.
While we still have a long way to go, the field now looks at delinquent behavior through a more developmentally informed lens, is more willing to look at the root causes of racial disparities in the system, and understands that many youth arrive at the doorstep of the justice system with a history of significant trauma.
Many jurisdictions now actively look for opportunities to divert low-risk youth from court and employ an array of treatment-oriented alternatives to incarceration for youth who need a therapeutic intervention.
In this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter, we turn our attention to one of the most important threads in the juvenile justice reform narrative of the past 15 years: the debate regarding the age of adult responsibility in the criminal justice system.
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?
On December 13th, President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Cures Act. This sweeping legislative initiative is likely to be the final piece of legislation Barack Obama signs, and it is anything but an afterthought. The act is not without its critics, but some of the provisions of the 21st Century Cures ACT, for example those that pave the way for cross agency coordination, promise to reverberate in positive ways in the treatment field by accelerating the impact of research and innovation and catalyzing more collaborative work across government agencies and professional fields.
For organizations like Reclaiming Futures whose mission includes efforts to bring systems together in the delivery of services to youth and families, this new set of laws is good news. In this month’s Reclaiming Futures Newsletter, we draw your attention to this important piece of legislation and to a new blog post by Reclaiming Futures’ Bridget Murphy that highlights some of the key moving parts and implications that this important piece of legislation has for us in the field of substance use and behavioral health treatment.
Acknowledged as the final signed legislation for President Obama’s Administration, the 21st Century Cures Act is important for behavioral health and juvenile justice. The key components of this Act include provisions for:
- Addressing the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic
- Providing funding for the BRAIN initiative and precision medicine
- Improving mental health care by increasing the availability of treatment and improving justice systems to ensure individuals in need of mental health services - actually get it
- Improving clinical trials
- Expanding cancer research and treatment efforts
In this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter, we draw your attention to a new report issued by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on November 17, 2016. The report is significant because it marks the first time a United States Surgeon General has taken such a clear and strong position that substance use and addiction should be viewed first and foremost as a public health issue. This is a position many advocates and organizations, like Reclaiming Futures, have taken for many years because we know firsthand the collateral consequences of continuing to view substance use and addiction as a moral failing and as a matter for the criminal justice system, and not the public health system and/or through a racially biased lens.
In this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter, we reflect on President Obama’s proclamation which, for the second year in a row, makes October National Youth Justice Awareness Month. President Obama’s focus on juvenile justice has been impressive, but it is important that the field does not become complacent as we contemplate what the future holds for juvenile justice reform.
Reclaiming Futures is proud to support Youth Justice Awareness Month. As such, we asked Mr. Brian Evans, the State’s Campaign Director at Campaign for Youth Justice to tell us about its history and purpose. Mr. Evans told us:
Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) started back in 2008, when Tracy McClard, a mother from Missouri who lost her son to suicide in an adult jail, organized a 5K race in October to raise awareness about the harmful practice of treating children as adults in the criminal justice system. Each October since then, YJAM has seen more activities and more events highlighting what is wrong with trying kids as adults. Film screenings, panel discussion, art exhibitions, and more ambitious endeavors like Tracy’s bike ride across the state of Missouri last year, have all drawn attention to and helped build a growing consensus that we need to reform the way we approach youth justice.
As President Obama said this year in his second annual proclamation of Youth Justice Awareness Month: “When we invest in our children and redirect young people who have made misguided decisions, we can reduce our over-reliance on the juvenile and criminal justice systems and build stronger pathways to opportunity.”
Since the first YJAM in 2008, we have seen increased awareness lead to concrete action. Over the past decade around 30 states have passed legislation keeping young people out of the adult criminal justice system. So this year, we YJAM is being re-branded as Youth Justice Action Month. More and more it has become apparent that we know what the problems are. Now, it is time for advocates, legislators, and governments to take action
As Reclaiming Futures enters its 16th year of operation, we reflect on our unique contributions to the juvenile justice reform efforts of the past couple decades. What is most concretely evident to the field is our public health oriented approach and the creation of an accessible stepwise model, designed for juvenile justice settings, to organize the way they identify treatment need and then deliver developmentally appropriate and evidence-based treatment responses that are then sustained by community supports. In order to make our six-step approach work at the local level, we partner with jurisdictions to break down silos and build authentic collaboration across a number of systems that serve youth.
In the current Reclaiming Futures newsletter we focus our attention on Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). SBIRT is a public health-oriented framework revolutionizing the way we think about behavioral health and substance use screening and prevention. Buoyed by strong evidence from the adult research literature, there has been a surge in national interest in translating the successes of the adult SBIRT model for youth populations.
It is widely known that arrest rates for adolescents have steadily declined over the past two decades. During this time, we’ve also seen a gradual shift in the nation’s juvenile justice practices away from the use of out-of-home placement for minor, non-violent offenses and toward more treatment-oriented, trauma-sensitive and community-based responses.
This, unfortunately, has not been the story for girls involved in the juvenile justice system. In fact, the proportion of girls involved at all stages of the juvenile justice continuum increased over this time period. Experts and policymakers agree that the system remains insensitive and ill-equipped to serve the needs of girls – particularly girls of color – at all levels of juvenile justice continuum.
While we are pleased to see the recent report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, meaningful reform focused on girls in the system is long overdue. In this month’s Reclaiming Futures Newsletter, we focus our attention on girls in the juvenile justice system and feature a new blog post by Bridget Murphy as well the latest Reclaiming Futures Data Brief, focused on gender trends in juvenile drug arrests.
On June 1, 2016, our Reclaiming Futures national executive director Evan Elkin spoke at Red Emma's in Baltimore for Open Society Institute-Baltimore's second event in their "Talking About Addiction" series. Elkin was accompanied on the panel by Dr. Hoover Adger from Johns Hopkins Children's Center and by Carin Callan Miller, who founded Save Our Children Peer Family Support. The conversation was moderated by Scott Nolen, director of OSI-Baltimore's Drug Addiction Treatment Program. A full room of community members joined them for the evening, including families affected by adolescent addiction.
Youth, Addiction and the Juvenile Justice System
Whereas the first "Talking About Addiction" event explored alternative law enforcement approaches to addiction, this event focused on youth, addiction, and the juvenile justice system. Despite public acknowledgment of the failures of the "War on Drugs," and an increased understanding of addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, OSI-Baltimore recognizes that research and policy around adolescent addiction are slow to reach the mainstream. Indeed, during the discussion, some attendees expressed frustration with how long addiction treatment reform is taking; OSI moderator Nolen suggested reassurance that the addiction paradigm is finally shifting.
- Compromise reached on "Second Chance" legislation; raising the age debate now closed. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy argued to raise the age of youth in the state juvenile justice system, but the debate ended last weekend in a compromise with Democratic leadership on bail reform for non-violent, misdemeanor offenses. [NBC Connecticut]
- White House deletes FDA's planned policy and rationale for restricting flavored e-cigarettes. After demonstrating the appeal of flavored products to youth and young adults, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted a tobacco regulation on flavored e-cigarettes to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The FDA policy and rationale for the restrictions were deleted by the OMB; no comments on why at this time. [NBC News]
A critical element of the juvenile justice reform narrative in the past decade has been our elevated understanding of the role that trauma plays in the experiences of young people - particularly those involved with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. With traumatic events and victimization affecting millions of youth each year, childhood trauma has genuinely become a pressing public health issue.
It took decades and a mountain of research evidence showing that incarcerating adolescents does little to prevent recidivism before policymakers took notice and began supporting measures to reduce incarceration and invest in community-based alternatives that prioritize treatment and support for youth and their families. Increasingly, over the past 15 years, we have seen the field come together around the common goal of creating a system for justice-involved youth that is more therapeutic, less punitive, less reliant on detention and incarceration, and more thoroughly grounded in research evidence and best practice. The catalyst for this paradigm shift has been a series of significant strategic investments by federal agencies and by major foundations like Annie E. Casey with its Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, the MacArthur Foundation and its Models for Change, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) investment in Reclaiming Futures. These investments have all paid off in different ways to drive the field forward.