Blog: Juvenile Justice Reform

"If Not Now, When?" Survey Finds Scant Police Training in Juvenile Justice

A recent survey of the state of training about juveniles in police academies reveals deficits in quantity and quality, with most state police academies devoting less than 1% of total curriculum time to teaching about juvenile justice. The nationwide survey conducted by Strategies for Youth (SFY) reports that the limited training that does exist emphasizes legal issues rather than skills and best practices for working with youth.
This is problematic, considering the growing body of research establishing the developmental and psychological differences between youth and adults. At the same time, police presence in the lives of youth has increased in recent years, with officers deployed in public schools and responding to disputes involving juveniles. A wealth of scientific information has informed best practice and effective strategies for interactions with youth, but goes neglected in police training at this juncture.
Highlights of the survey’s results include:

  • Only 9 states provide new officers any training on adolescent mental health issues, and only 2 training on adolescent development and psychology.
  • Only 8 states provide information on the federally required obligation to reduce disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in their juvenile justice curriculum.
  • 5 states require no juvenile justice training in the academy at all.
  • 40 states’ juvenile justice curricula focus primarily on the juvenile code and legal issues and provide no communication or psychological skills for officers working with youth.

Of the 2.1 million juvenile arrests each year, only 12% are for serious or violent felonies. According to SFY this number shows the consequences of this training gap, as lacking other strategies, police quickly resort to arrests in youth interactions. Beyond being costly, arrests negatively impact youth, their communities, and officers alike. Said SFY Executive Director Lisa Thurau in a press release,

“There’s a big disconnect in the American juvenile justice system. While reformers and system stakeholders are working to reduce reliance on the arrest, detention and incarceration of juveniles, police are being ignored as an integral part of these efforts. We’ve got to share this information with them and make them partners in reform.”

Florida’s School-to-Prison Pipeline Is Largest in the Nation; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

Kansas: Justice-Involved Teens can now Train for Career in "Environmental Water Technology"

Youth in a Topeka juvenile correctional facility will soon begin training in a field that could net them attractive career options in the future.
Thanks to instruction from Fort Scott Community College (FSCC) and a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, students at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex (KJCC) now have the opportunity to gain skills in “Environmental Water Technology,” a field in which the median annual income in Kansas is $41,000.
The Department of Labor has identified that a shortage of technicians in the field is looming, as the mean age of those in the industry is in the mid-50s. The agency’s grant is targeting trainees in the 18-21 age range, and FSCC is bringing the opportunity to those in the Kansas juvenile justice system.
KJCC held an open house on Friday, Feb. 8, to introduce its new Environmental Water Technology course of study and encourage the youth at the facility to enroll in the program.
Classes in Environmental Water Technology, which are offered to residents of KJCC who have received a high school diploma or a GED, will begin in March. Enrollees in the program will typically study in a classroom setting during the morning, then engage in hands-on lab work in the afternoon, said Megan Milner, deputy superintendent of KJCC.

Connecticut Towns Cut Student Arrests Without Compromising Safety

In Manchester High School, students were being arrested “practically for breathing,” according to Superintendent Ana Ortiz. That’s no longer the case. Last year, the school’s arrest rate fell 78 percent.
Manchester was one of three towns that the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance worked with to dramatically reduce arrests in their schools without compromising safety. We share their stories in our new report, Adult Decisions: Connecticut Rethinks Student Arrests. Manchester, Windham and Stamford, Connecticut deserve heaps of praise for their work to end the flow of kids into the juvenile justice system, while also making their schools safer and more welcoming places for all students.
We started with a simple proposition: Kids shouldn’t be arrested in school for things we wouldn’t consider a crime outside of school – for example, for possession of tobacco. Minor misbehavior should be looked at as an opportunity to teach, not a reason to send a kid away in handcuffs. These districts found ways to support students and teach good behavior. That makes school a better environment for every student.

The National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition Puts Forward Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Reform Recommendations to the Obama Administration

Last week, the National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) -- a coalition comprising more than 300 national, state and local organizations working together to ensure healthy families, build strong communities and improve community safety released "Promoting Safe Communities: Report and Recommendations to the Obama Administration" to urge the President to restore a more effective system of juvenile justice for youth by focusing on five priority areas.
The NJJDPC recommends that the Administration restore federal leadership in juvenile justice policy such as increasing funding for juvenile justice reforms, supporting the reauthorization and state implementation of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), strengthening the partnership between the federal government and the states, ensuring that program policies and practices involve families, implementing recommendations from the Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence (which he co-chaired) as well as improving data collection.
In addition, the NJJDPC urges the Administration to support prevention, early intervention and diversion strategies by advocating for the elimination of the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception to the JJDPA, supporting community-based alternatives to incarceration, improving school safety and reducing exclusionary school disciplinary practices, improving access to and quality of mental health and behavior health services, addressing the specific needs of girls, and promoting cultural competence on LGBTQI youth.

Florida: Wansley Walters Video on Juvenile Justice Reform

While we need to hold teens accountable for their actions, simply locking them up isn’t effective. Young people in the juvenile justice system need more treatment, better treatment, and support beyond treatment.
I encourage you to watch this brief interview with Wansley Walters, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. In the video, Secretary Walters shares her views on the importance of early assessments and prescriptive measures in juvenile justice reform. We need to continue this investment to stay on track and reduce crime. "As the resources pull away, the problem starts to creep back in," Walters says.  


Recognizing the Symptoms of Trauma in Justice-Involved Youth

Justice-involved youth have complex histories that not only contributed to their delinquency but present challenges for rehabilitation. They often experience poverty, violence, familial instability, exposure to drug use and gangs, and serial relocations. These compound factors exacerbate a lack of self-confidence, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, and mental health issues.

In the field of public health, these experiences are identified as traumatic: including a loss of safety, powerlessness, fear, hopelessness, and a constant state of alertness. In the video above, Christa Collins notes that exposure to trauma severely diminishes decision-making skills and the ability to cope with stress.

Feds to Audit Solitary Confinement Policy; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Feds to Audit Solitary Confinement Policy (
    The Federal Bureau of Prisons will hire an independent auditor to review the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons, according to a statement released by the bureau. The move could impact thousands of juveniles in adult facilities who are frequently isolated from adult inmates, sometimes on the pretext of protecting their personal safety.
  • Thousands of Student Arrests Alarm Florida Justice Leaders (Orlando Sentinel)
    Thousands of Florida students are arrested in school each year and taken to jail for behavior that once warranted a trip to the principal's office — a trend that troubles juvenile-justice and civil-rights leaders who say children are being traumatized for noncriminal acts.
  • Report Calls for Increased Funding for Juvenile Justice Efforts (
    To sustain and ramp up changes to Louisiana's juvenile justice system there needs to be adequate funding at both the state and local levels, experts recommended in a report released Thursday. At a day-long conference in Baton Rouge, two members of the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission underscored this concern, saying a lack of money could hinder future progress across the state.

A Family Guide to Pennsylvania's Juvenile Justice System

Models for Change continues to take a proactive approach to juvenile justice, making sure that families know what to expect if somebody close to them ends up involved in the juvenile justice system. Their publication, “A Family Guide to Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System,” (also available as a PDF download) was developed by the Family Involvement Committee of the Pa Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers--a committee of family advocates and juvenile justice practitioners--to help families understand Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system and be better prepared to work closely with juvenile justice staff to promote positive outcomes for justice involved youth.
Pennsylvania’s approach to juvenile justice is itself a model for change--focusing on three main goals aimed at balance and restoration:

Community Protection – The public has the right to safe and secure homes and communities. The juvenile justice system must help the child while keeping the community, including the child and family, safe.

Accountability – When a crime is committed, the child is responsible for the harm caused and should take action to repair the harm and restore the victim and community.

Competency Development – Children should leave the juvenile justice system more capable of living responsibly and productively in the community. Since children are not as developmentally mature as adults, they are given the opportunity to learn to be responsible and competent.

Lucas County, Ohio, Using $1.32 Million Grant to Help System-Involved Teens

Since receiving a $1.32 million grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Lucas County, Ohio, has moved quickly to implement the Reclaiming Futures model. Per the model, teens will be screened for substance abuse and mental health issues directly after arrest and receive treatment as needed.
The Toledo Free Press reports:

Reclaiming Futures will be used as a model with 25 teenagers in the Lucas County Juvenile Treatment Court. There is a goal set to increase the capacity to 30 teenagers who will receive treatment each year. This would mean 120 teenagers will be helped by the grant during the four years.
“It’s great for our county,” [Lucas County Juvenile Treatment Court Coordinator LaTonya] Harris said. “This is going to allow us to serve as a model for other counties and other sites when we get our results.”
Harris said there is no end for Reclaiming Futures in sight, even if the funding from the grant runs out. Once it is implemented and the staff is fully trained, the program will stay intact for as long as the community wants it to be.

Kansas Juvenile Justice Graduate Turns Life Around

As Pomp and Circumstance played from a laptop computer, adults, some in prison staff uniforms, and a handful of teenage girls in gray sweat suits, stand in respectful silence.
Finally, a solitary young woman in a red gown pushes her way through a heavy green security door, which slams with cold severity behind her. The door’s blast doesn’t faze her, however. She’s heard it before. She smiles sheepishly, but holds her head high, her eyes fixed straight ahead.
Emily won’t celebrate her graduation with any parties at her home. She won’t be toasted at any restaurants by family and friends. Instead she’ll spend another night at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex (KJCC) in Topeka.
But it will be her last. She’s going home for good the next day, to live with her mother, to start a new life.
Emily enrolled in a Topeka area high school in the fall of 2011, ready for a senior year like most students experience – going to ball games, participating in activities, maybe even attending the prom in the spring.
But Emily’s plans were interrupted. After several stints in foster care and juvenile facilities, and a short stay with her father in Mississippi, Emily was informed that her near future would be spent at the lock-down facility for juveniles in Topeka, serving time for previous convictions.

Children are Different: Constitutional Values and Juvenile Justice Policy

The emerging principle that “children are different” from adult offenders will direct the future course of juvenile justice says a new paper in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. In the essay, Elizabeth S. Scott examines how three Supreme Court opinions have created a special status for juveniles under the Eighth Amendment, the science backing this, and the implications for juvenile crime regulation.
Scott identifies the “children are different” approach in the cases Miller v. Alabama, Graham v. Florida and Roper v. Simmons, three instances in the last seven years of the Supreme Court holding that harsh criminal sentences―life without parole and the death penalty―on juvenile offenders violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. According to Scott, these opinions are a marked departure from hostile policies of the 90s ignoring the differences between juveniles and adults, and one which has been spurred by advances in developmental science.
A growing body of research illustrates specific behavioral and neurobiological differences between adolescents and adults that also distinguish them as offenders. The Court focused on three factors: adolescents’ tendency for taking risks without considering future consequences, their vulnerability to external influences, particularly peers, and the transient nature of these and other developmental influences. These traits set juveniles apart from adults, and thereby warrant their differential treatment. They also speak to adolescents’ unique capacity for reform, pressing the case for developmentally based correctional programs over the costly and often less effective route of imprisonment.
Scott lists four key lessons for lawmakers arising from this trend:

Teen Narrowly Escapes Death after Smoking Synthetic Marijuana; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Juvenile Justice Should be a Focus for Georgia (
    In her final State of the Judiciary address before the General Assembly today, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein is expected to focus on an issue that needs serious thought — juvenile justice.
  • [AUDIO] When Crime Pays: Prison Can Teach Some To Be Better Criminals (
    In popular lore — movies, books and blogs — criminals who go to prison don't come out reformed. They come out worse. Scientists who have attempted to empirically analyze this theory have reached mixed conclusions, with analyses suggesting that activities like drug addiction or gangs are what determines whether the correctional system actually gets criminals to correct their ways.
  • Mapping Juvenile Justice (
    A new mapping project demonstrates overlaps between New York City communities with the highest percentage of youth, the lowest household incomes, rates of foster care placement and adults without high school diplomas.
  • GA Police Chief to Serve on Juvenile Justice Board (
    The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice has announced Elaine Snow, chief of the City of Rome Police Department, has been named vice chair of the agency's board. Snow is filling a board position that was left vacant by Avery Niles after Gov. Nathan Deal named him as Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner.
  • Gov. Dayton appoints the first Minnesota Somali Woman to Serve on the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (
    Saciido Shaie has long had a dream that her thoughts and actions would one day become a reason for Minnesota youth to excel in education and life. That’s why she’s spent many years of leadership and advocacy in building a better place for Twin Cities’ young minorities. Minnesota took a note of her passion in activism, and so did Governor Mark Dayton. He appointed her last June as the first Somali woman to serve on the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee for Minneapolis.
  • Suffer the Children (The Economist)
    On March 29th 2012 Georgia’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted on a criminal-justice reform bill that read like a left-leaning criminologist’s fantasy. It revised sentencing laws to keep non-violent drug and property offenders out of prison, directing them instead toward alternatives—drug courts, day-reporting centres, mental-health courts—designed to treat and rehabilitate rather than punish. Now Georgia is looking to do something similar for juveniles.

Reclaiming Futures Hiring in Portland, Oregon

Do you support juvenile justice reform and want to help communities break the cycle of drugs, alchohol and crime? 
Join our staff in Portland, Oregon, where Reclaiming Futures is improving the experience for teens in the juvenile justice system by providing adolescent substance abuse and mental health treatment in 37 communities around the country.
We are hiring for two dynamic positions, Strategic Partnership Development Director and Fellowship Program Manager. Please read the full position descriptions. Some highlights of these jobs include: 
Strategic Partnership Development Director

  • Secure major sustainability funding from private and government sources
  • Cultivate regional and national relationships with individuals and agencies
  • Establish financial and other partnerships with local, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, private foundations, and private or business sectors

Fellowship Program Manager

  • Provide leadership for the strategic direction of the fellowship program and seek input from staff, fellows and faculty across the country
  • Organize fellowship meetings’ activities and materials
  • Develop a webinar strategy to provide learning opportunities for sites and grow the national profile of Reclaiming Futures 

Innovation Brief: Strengthening the Role of Families in Juvenile Justice

In 2007, Models for Change-Pennsylvania set out to address the roles of families in the juvenile justice system. The multidisciplinary workgroup included both family advocacy and juvenile justice leadership. The Innovation Brief: Strengthening the Role of Families in Juvenile Justice, outlines the goals and process Pennsylvania took to achieve their three overarching goals:

  1. Align with the philosophies of Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system and the state’s family advocacy network.
  2. Integrate with ongoing system reform emerging from Models for Change-Pennsylvania.
  3. Design and implement a strategic model that authentically includes the voices of all stakeholders, advances evidence- based approaches, and produces measurable and sustainable change.

Before Pennsylvania's formal family involvement training was put in place, only about 51% of participants felt that the benefits of family involvement in the court process outweighed the drawbacks. After, nearly 80% felt that family involvement was good for the court process:

Robert Listenbee to Lead Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Last Friday, President Obama announced his intent to appoint Robert Listenbee, Jr. as Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). 
From the announcement:

Robert Listenbee, Jr. is Chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, a position he has held since 1997. He has also been a trial lawyer at the Defender Association of Philadelphia since 1986. Previously, from 1991 to 1997, Mr. Listenbee was Assistant Chief of the Juvenile Unit. He is a member of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which advises the Governor of Pennsylvania on juvenile justice policy. Mr. Listenbee serves on the policy committees of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the National Center for Juvenile Justice. He serves on the advisory board of the National Juvenile Defender Center and is a board member and former President of the Juvenile Defenders Association of Pennsylvania. Mr. Listenbee received a B.A. from Harvard University and a J.D. from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

Listenbee has agreed to join the administration and will replace acting Administrator Melodee Hanes.

Urban Teaching and Juvenile Justice; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Urban Teaching and Juvenile Justice OR Why I Have 8 Probation Officers’ Numbers in my Phone (Philly Teacher Man Blog)
    "When I started teaching, I had no interest or background in the juvenile justice system. The fact that it might one day be incredibly relevant to my work in education was not even on my radar, but here I sit nearly 5 years later with no fewer than 8 probation officers in my cell phone."
  • Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Prepares for Transformation (
    Georgia’s DJJ boss tells state lawmakers that his department must be transformed to handle the burdens a class of inmates that’s older and more violent, and high employee turnover and low morale, just as the governor pushes a large package of reforms.
  • Florida Tightening Juvenile Justice Monitoring (
    State officials on Friday announced plans for quality improvements and tighter monitoring of juvenile justice residential and detention facilities following the arrest last month of a staff member accused of battering a 15-year-old girl in the Florida Panhandle.
  • Senator Proposes Moving Toughest Juvenile Offenders to Adult Prisons (
    In a move that would change decades of state policy, the chairman of the Senate’s criminal justice committee suggested Monday that 17- and 18-year-olds who commit violent crimes should do their time in a new system of youth prisons rather than in Texas’ juvenile lockups.

Ohio Leaders Brave Blizzard to Help Teens

Despite snow, ice, fog and temperatures around 15 degrees on January 25, nearly 70 leaders interested in juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance abuse treatment, public policy and philantropy gathered at the Columbus Foundation in Columbus, Ohio, to learn about Reclaiming Futures, a proven model for helping teens break the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime.
We were joined by Harvey Reed, Director of Ohio Department of Youth Services, to discuss how to unite probation officers, judges, substance abuse treatment professionals and community members to help teens in the justice system.
The following counties expressed interest in the technical assistance, training, webinars, leadership institutes, fellowship support and coaching available to members of the Reclaiming Futures community:

  • Coshocton
  • Franklin
  • Henry
  • Logan
  • Marion
  • Perry
  • Pickaway
  • Drake

Innovation Brief: Juvenile Justice and Mental Health: A Collaborative Approach

Models for Change recently published an innovation brief, “Juvenile Justice and Mental Health: A Collaborative Approach,” [PDF download] that reports the benefits of a collaborative model for juvenile justice and mental health. Although teens with mental health problems used to be handled outside of the juvenile justice system, a shift in the 1990s placed “rehabilitation” responsibility to the juvenile justice system. From the report (emphasis mine):
High crime rates [in the 1990s] led to get-tough measures, including zero-tolerance policies in schools and criminalization of normal adolescent behaviors, that put more youths in the system. The closing of psychiatric hospitals, a trend that began in the 1970s, continued apace, while the community mental health system, initiated with such optimism in the 1960s, was being downsized. As a result, youths with mental health problems frequently ended up in the juvenile justice system, which could not refuse to serve them.
To better serve teens with mental health troubles, Models for Change recommends a framework for multi-system change, including (via the report):

Targeted Treatment for Rural Wisconsin Teens

A common misconception that befalls some stakeholders in the effort to increase targeted, effective treatment or placements for nonviolent juvenile offenders is that such treatment is not available outside of urban settings or larger cities.
The Village of Oconomowoc Lake, Wisconsin, pop. 595, proves that misconception may not hold true for much longer.
At a recent meeting of the Village’s Municipal Court officials, representatives of a substance abuse program described how substance abuse could be a far more effective deterrent for youths charged with drinking offenses or very minor drug offenses.
Currently, those youths are usually just given a fine, often paid by their parents, and nothing is done to curb the underlying drug or alcohol issues.
Instead, juveniles could be placed in an addiction and education and counseling class, a portion of which involves the family. This alternative meets the rubric for an effective intervention for juveniles: targeted, tailored treatment of underlying issues and familial involvement.