Blog: Juvenile Justice Reform

Removing the Blinders: Acknowledging the Unique Needs of Girls of Color in the Juvenile Justice System

As anyone who knows about the juvenile justice system will tell you, girls who are in the system are there because of a history of abuse. But why girls are there and the unique needs faced by girls of color is something largely ignored, even by those working in the justice system. For example, we know that girls’ brains develop earlier than boys do; we also know that so do their bodies. Unique factors such as these are precisely why I recently wrote and presented, “Blind Discretion: Girls of Color and Delinquency in the Juvenile Justice System.”
The juvenile justice system was designed to empower its decisionmakers with a wide grant of discretion in hopes of better addressing youth in a more individualistic and holistic, and therefore more effective, manner. Unfortunately for girls of color in the system, this discretionary charter given to police, probation officers, and especially judges has operated without sufficiently acknowledging and addressing their unique position. Indeed, the dearth of adequate gender/race intersectional analysis in the research and stark absence of significant system tools directed at the specific characteristics of and circumstances faced by girls of color has tracked alarming trends such as the rising number of girls in the system and relatively harsher punishment they receive compared to boys for similar offenses. This willful blindness must stop.

The High Cost of Convicting Teens as Adults

The policy of trying 16- and 17-year-old nonviolent offenders as adults in criminal court has a damaging effect on the lifetime earnings potential of nearly 1,000 teenaged New Yorkers each year—costing them an estimated, cumulative total of between $50 million and $60 million in lost income over the course of their lives.
A Child Welfare Watch analysis demonstrates that the policy of trying 16- and 17-year-old nonviolent felony and misdemeanor offenders in adult criminal court has a high cost in foregone wages for each annual cohort of 16- and 17-year-olds that passes through the adult criminal courts, and also costs the government unknown millions in lost taxes.
The Watch reached its estimate using a method similar to that applied by researchers at the Vera Institute of Justice when they performed a 2011 cost-benefit analysis for a North Carolina state legislature task force. At the time, North Carolina was considering a legislative change that would have shifted cases of 16- and 17-year-olds charged with nonviolent crime to the state’s juvenile system.
Our analysis did not approach the full scope of the North Carolina study. Instead, we adapted one particular component—the cost of the current policy in lost earnings potential for young people tried in adult court who end up with a permanent criminal record. The authors of the North Carolina analysis calculated the loss in wages over a lifetime, finding that the average net present value of the earning differential between people with a record and those without totals $61,691 per person.

Court Inundated With Non-Dangerous Kids Arrested Because They ‘Make Adults Mad’ and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • State Turns Attention to Juvenile Justice Reforms (
    A special state council in Atlanta will recommend repairs for a juvenile justice system that spends $91,000 a year for each bed in its state detention centers. Council members point to the enormous expense of incarcerating young offenders in a state “youth development campus,” or YDC, while producing poor results, as evidence that the system isn’t working.
  • Juvenile Judge: My Court Was Inundated With Non-Dangerous Kids Arrested Because They ‘Make Adults Mad’ (
    The United States is not just the number one jailer in the world. It also incarcerates juveniles at a rate that eclipses every other country. Evidence has long been building that schools use the correctional system as a misplaced mechanism for discipline, with children being sent to detention facilities for offenses as minor as wearing the wrong color socks to school.
  • Arrests, Juvenile Detention, and High School Dropouts in Chicago (
    Descriptively, our data reveal that of the Chicago public school students who steered clear of the juvenile justice system, 64 percent went on to graduate high school. In contrast, a mere 26 percent of arrested students graduated high school. Of those young adults without a criminal record who graduated high school or obtained a GED, 35 percent enrolled in a 4-year college. Yet for arrestees, 16 percent subsequently enrolled in a 4-year college.
  • York Co. South Carolina Juvenile Justice Kids Collecting Food for Hungry (
    For the first time this year, DJJ is collecting nonperishable canned goods to distribute to four York County, South Carolina charities for the holidays. The drive, which started Nov. 1, ends Friday. Aiming to become part of a “community of givers,” DJJ teamed up with the county solicitor’s office, Coca Cola and Best Buy to find a “creative” way to bolster donations that are common this time of year, said Amahl Bennett, DJJ director.
  • Governor Wants To Merge Juvenile Justice & Corrections (
    Kansas Governor Sam Brownback wants to merge the state's Juvenile Justice Authority with the Department of Corrections. The governor says he’ll propose an executive reorganization order in the coming legislative session to merge the two agencies.
  • New Ga. Juvenile Justice Chief Focuses on Problems (
    When five young men slipped out of a juvenile detention center a month and a half ago in Augusta, stealing a car and leading police on a chase, it was just the latest in a string of setbacks for officials trying to turn around Georgia's system for young criminals.
  • Strengthening Florida's Juvenile Justice System (
    There is a lot to like about the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice's new "Roadmap to System Excellence," the topic of town hall meetings last week in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. Members of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, who deliver services across Florida, ranging from prevention through reentry and everything in between, know that with every well-intentioned plan, the devil is often in the details.

Lucas County Makes News Helping Teens Break Cycle of Drugs, Alcohol and Crime

We welcome Lucas County, Ohio, to Reclaiming Futures!
In the news clip above, Project Director LaTonya Harris, explains how new funding will transform their juvenile drug court by coordinating services so young people have access to better treatment and support beyond treatment.
Lucas County, Ohio, will receive $1.32 million in funding from the Office of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), over the next four years, to improve and enhance their juvenile drug courts by integrating the Reclaiming Futures' model into the court.

Reclaiming Futures Receives $6.15 Million to Expand in Nine New Communities

On December 10, 2012, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety announced new investments in a public-private partnership with the Duke Endowment and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to reform the state's juvenile justice system. Together the foundations are contributing $888,000 to bring Reclaiming Futures to six additional communities in North Carolina.

On December 11, 2012, Reclaiming Futures announced a $5.27 million award from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to improve drug and alcohol treatment for teens in trouble with the law in the following communities: 

  • Lucas County, Ohio
  • Forsyth County, N.C. 
  • Duval County, Fla.

The funding will also provide training and technical assistance for the existing six federally-funded Reclaiming Futures sites in addition to these three new communities.
Reclaiming Futures brings together judges, probation officers, treatment providers, families and community members to focus on three common goals for teens: more treatment, better treatment and community connections beyond treatment, in 37 sites across 18 states.

New Study Looks at Transferring Juveniles to Adult Court

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)'s December bulletin focuses on a new study, “Transfer of Adolescents to Adult Court: Effects of a Broad Policy in One Court.” The bulletin discusses the effects and implications of transferring juveniles from youth court to adult court. The data shared provides a deeper understanding of how juveniles mature out of offending and how the justice system can promote positive changes in the lives of juvenile youth.
The bulletin presents findings from the Pathways to Desistance, which looks to answer the question “How and why do many serious adolescent offenders stop offending while others continue to commit crimes?” The authors share the findings from the Pathways study to discuss the implications for juveniles when looking at future youth transfers.
Findings show that most of the youth in the study who were sent to adult facilities returned to the community within a few years, varying widely in their levels of adjustment. Prior work indicates that transferred youth are more likely to commit criminal acts than adolescents kept in the juvenile justice system.
To read the full bulletin click here.

Healing Words: Creative Writing Programs as Therapy for Kids in Detention and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • A Handful of States Lead the Way on Juvenile Crime Prevention (
    States are "surprisingly slow" in adopting proven methods to deal with violent or delinquent youth and their families, a national juvenile justice conference was told today. Failure to use the programs has been shown to result in higher crime rates and higher costs.
  • Healing Words: Creative Writing Programs as Therapy for Kids in Detention (
    Many programs incorporating elements of creative writing have been set up across the nation’s juvenile halls and treatment facilities, with the National Endowment for the Arts recognizing creative writing workshops like Massachusetts’ Actors’ Shakespeare Project and the Los Angeles-based InsideOUT Writers.
  • St. Clair County Gives Child Court Cases Special Treatment (
    Court cases involving children will be handled by a new team at the St. Clair County, Illinois, State's Attorney's Office. St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly created the Children's Justice Division, headed by assistant state's attorney and new mother Anna Young.
  • Foundation Strives to Create Legacy for Juvenile Justice Reform (
    The nonprofit MacArthur Foundation has spent more than $100 million since 2004 on developing blueprints for reform within the juvenile justice systems of 16 states. Earlier this week, its reform initiative, Models for Change, brought together nearly 400 judges, advocates, probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals for two days of workshops in Washington, D.C.

Juvenile Justice and Adolescent Treatment Leaders in New Jersey Learn More About Reclaiming Futures

On November 13 and 15 in Mt. Laurel and Morristown, New Jersey, leaders from around the state of New Jersey and a variety of youth-serving disciplines, gathered to learn more about the national and local problems facing communities and the solutions offered by Reclaiming Futures.
Reclaiming Futures is working with New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to conduct a six-month readiness assessment to determine if the Reclaiming Futures model, offering more treatement, better treatment and support beyond treatment, can be implemented in New Jersey, with support and funding through NJHI.
According to national data, almost two million young people ages 12 to 17 need treatment for substance abuse or dependence, but only one in 20 will get treated. That's unfortunate, because effective adolescent substance abuse treatment can help teens stay out of trouble, make our communities safer, and save money.
Young people need to be held accountable when they break the law, but unless they receive treatment when they have a substance abuse problem, they will likely find themselves back in juvenile court again and again.
Please contact Reclaiming Futures at 503-725-8911, or email for more information about bringing Reclaiming Futures to your community.

Florida's Roadmap to Juvenile Justice System Excellence

In this short video, Wansley Walters, Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary, says that Florida is focusing on reducing recidivism and saving taxpayer money.

Their reform efforts center on Walters' "roadmap to system excellence" which includes strategies to prevent and divert at-risk youth, find alternatives to secure detention facilities and allocating resources more effectively.

Most Popular Juvenile Justice Blog Posts | November 2012

Here are the top ten most read blog posts from November 2012. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
10. Real-World Solutions for Crossover Youth: Coordinating Care in Practice and Policy
Georgetown Public Policy Review speaks with Shay Bilchik about a multi-systems approach to care for crossover youth and reform options.
9. How to Use Language in Court that Youth Understand: Get the New Models for Change Guide 
A new guide from TeamChild, helps courts implement colloquies to bridge the gap between what is said in court and what kids understand.
8. Why Missing School Matters
Research shows that missing school lowers outcomes for youth, says the Media Awareness Project. But why do kids miss school in the first place?
7. Crossover Youth: Intersection of Child Welfare & Juvenile Justice 
The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice looks at how best to meet the needs of crossover youth, those who are in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Celebrating the Holidays Behind Bars: Ideas for Connecting with Justice-Involved Youth

Isolated from their families, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time for the tens of thousands of children behind bars. But the holidays also offer us a unique opportunity to reach out and make meaningful connections with justice-involved youth. 
Looking for ways to connect? Our friends at the Campaign for Youth Justice have a Holiday Event Toolkit that includes ideas for holiday projects, letters and events for incarcerated youth.
Check it out and let us know if you have any ideas to add!

The Shocking Details of a Mississippi School-to-Prison Pipeline and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Viewpoint: Localizing Juvenile Justice Spurs National Reforms (American City & County)
    Across the country, jurisdictions are moving away from centralized juvenile justice systems and toward smaller, local programs. Local systems are less expensive and are proving to be highly effective.
  • New Report: Minors in ‘Solitary’ Hallucinate, Harm Themselves (
    A new report on solitary confinement of minors includes harrowing descriptions of the psychological and physical impact ‘solitary’ has on young people, as well as surprising revelations about why some authorities resort to isolating juveniles.
  • Juvenile Courts were Created to Get Kids on Track (
    Experts believe teenage brains are not fully developed. Society knows they should not be judged and punished in the same way as adults. So like other states, Iowa created a juvenile justice system to ensure that young offenders are given the help to get their lives moving in the right direction.
  • Opinion: Juvenile Justice (
    The state Department of Juvenile Justice’s new Roadmap to System Excellence is indeed an exercise in common sense. The Roadmap, which was discussed Thursday in Tallahassee in the first of a series of town hall meetings to hear from citizens and stakeholders, has the lofty goal of making Florida a leader in juvenile justice.
  • Avery D. Niles Sworn In As New Georgia Department Of Juvenile Justice Commissioner (
    Avery D. Niles, of Clermont, Georgia was sworn in Friday as the new Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
  • States Mull Ohio-Style Juvenile Justice Reform (
    Georgia has room to make its juvenile justice system more regular, cheaper and better, according to preliminary suggestions from a blue-ribbon panel charged with drafting an overhaul. States including Texas and Ohio have gone down the same path, which, say experts, is not completely smooth.
  • The Shocking Details of a Mississippi School-to-Prison Pipeline (
    Cedrico Green can’t exactly remember how many times he went back and forth to juvenile. When asked to venture a guess he says, “Maybe 30.” He was put on probation by a youth court judge for getting into a fight when he was in eighth grade. Thereafter, any of Green’s school-based infractions, from being a few minutes late for class to breaking the school dress code by wearing the wrong color socks, counted as violations of his probation and led to his immediate suspension and incarceration in the local juvenile detention center.
  • First Court of Appeals Hears Case Challenging Transfer of Juvenile to Adult Court (
    Children in Texas can be tried in adult criminal court under a waiver statute that permits the transfer of a juvenile to adult court after a hearing is conducted by a juvenile judge. On October 31, 2012 the First Court of Appeals in Houston heard a case challenging the transfer of a child, C.M. The decision of the Court is pending.
  • EDITORIAL: Juvenile Injustice (The New York Times)
    Step by step, the Supreme Court has been trying to reshape the way the American criminal justice system deals with those under the age of 18. In Miller v. Alabama this June, it ruled that a mandatory life sentence without parole for a juvenile is cruel and unusual punishment, even when the crime is homicide.
  • Marijuana Decriminalization Law Brings Down Juvenile Arrests in California (
    Marijuana — it’s one of the primary reasons why California experienced a stunning 20 percent drop in juvenile arrests in just one year, between 2010 and 2011, according to provocative new research.
  • For the Newly-Elected Judge, a Different View of Juvenile Court (
    Dozens of lawyers won their first elections as judges this month, and they will soon experience the sensation of viewing the courtroom from the other side of the bench and hearing the words “your honor” directed at them.

Anchorage, Alaska, Helping Teens for 10 Years

To celebrate 10 years, Reclaiming Futures Anchorage recently hosted a reception to honor those who have worked together, improving the lives of young people in the justice system for the past decade.
They also served a delicious cake (pictured at right), which helped improve attendance! It was clear from the events that there is interest in a statewide effort to provide more treatment, better treatment and support beyond treatment for communities working to help teens overcome drugs, alcohol and crime. 
Both Fairbanks and Matanuska-Susitna County were very well-represented, but the events were also attended by a wide variety of leaders from around the state, including:

  • Judicial representatives
  • Treatment providers
  • Community members 
  • Funders
  • Public health employees
  • Attorneys
  • Young people and parents 
  • Division of Juvenile Justice staff and leadership
  • Other youth-serving agency representatives

Preparing for the Models for Change Conference

The Models for Change conference is just around the corner – and it’s not too soon to start participating online!
This year, we are especially excited to engage with conference attendees and juvenile justice practitioners online through social media.
We will live-tweet all three days of the conference and encourage you to follow along and join in by tweeting and retweeting with the hashtags #MFC7 and #Models4Change. (When you want to tell something specific about some issue or subject, you can prefix your subject with #. The more people that re‐tweet your message and/or use the same # with their own tweets, the # or subject acts like a keyword and becomes searchable and more popular.) For those not yet on Twitter (join here), this is the perfect chance to dabble in social networking to promote your organization’s issues and Models for Change. Images, graphs, quotes, workshops and photographs will be featured and we hope you share your own thoughts/tweets on this medium. And remember, when you tweet, make sure to include @models4change. Start following us there as well.

Revisiting the School-to-Prison Pipeline

School to Prison PipelineThe Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley published a report detailing a pilot program aimed at students of color and low-income families to shift from a zero-tolerance school discipline policy to a restorative justice policy. The report, “School-Based Restorative Justice as an Alternative to Zero-Tolerance Policies: Lessons from West Oakland,” [PDF download] draws evidence from Cole Middle School in West Oakland and finds that the restorative approach can help combat the school-to-prison pipeline and have a positive effect on disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system.
The report’s executive summary has a great introduction to the major concepts included in the report (emphasis mine):

Restorative justice is an alternative to retributive zero-tolerance policies that mandate suspension or expulsion of students from school for a wide variety of misbehaviors including possession of alcohol or cigarettes, fighting, dress code violations, and cursing. Although zero-tolerance policies have resulted in substantial increases in student suspensions and expulsions for students of all races, African American and Hispanic/Latino youth are disproportionately impacted by a zero-tolerance approach.
Under zero tolerance, suspensions and expulsions can directly or indirectly result in referrals to the juvenile and adult criminal systems where African American and Hispanic/Latino youth are also disproportionately represented. This phenomenon, part of a process that criminalizes students, has been termed the school-to-prison pipeline.

How to Use Language in Court that Youth Understand: Get the New Models for Change Guide

As Shiloh Carter outlined in "Kid Courts Should Use Kid Friendly Language," it is no secret that when youth end up in court, they are often confused and uncertain about the purpose of the proceedings, and what's expected of them when they leave. Why? In spite of the fact that judges and other court professionals try hard to make sure youth know what’s expected of them, much of the language used in court goes right over their heads.
TeamChild®—a nonprofit law office based in Washington State—recognized this problem and developed interventions to help youth understand more of what goes on when they appear in court. With the support of Models for Change, a national juvenile justice reform initiative funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, we worked with the Washington State Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network (JIDAN), to create a tool—the judicial colloquies—to train judges and other court practitioners on the use of developmentally appropriate language in court proceedings.
We decided to focus our work on the court orders issued when youth are released prior to adjudication, and when they are put on probation. At these stages of the proceedings, a youth might face detention time if they violate their court orders.

Right-Sizing Virginia’s Juvenile Justice Facilities

There are a few immutable functions of government—and public safety is paramount amongst them. We expect our state and local governments to use our tax dollars to keep the public peace, to punish those who do wrong, and ensure streets remain safe for prosperous economic development.
But as with all uses of taxpayer dollars, we expect Virginia to accomplish these goals effectively and efficiently.
Outdated juvenile justice systems present an excellent example of the inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. For decades, juvenile justice systems have over-relied on secure confinement of juvenile offenders in state facilities. Unfortunately, this process of seeking to rehabilitate juvenile offenders is the most expensive and, typically the least effective option.
Juvenile justice systems are unique from other public safety agencies as juveniles are treated differently than adult offenders, largely due to their age and capacity for change. Therefore, rehabilitation is an even more important goal for juveniles. The public benefit and cost savings that result from diverting a youth from a lifetime of crime, and putting them on the right track to a law abiding and productive life, are immense and should be prioritized.
Regrettably, the evidence suggests that Virginia is falling short of this goal. More than 700 youths are in state lockups on any given day. Taxpayers pay $221 per day, per juvenile, and at an average time spent in the facility of 14 months, the resulting tab is almost $100,000.

Elementary-Schoolers' Arrests Alarm Justice Officials and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • [Video] Fresno Local Conservation Corps Re-Entry Program Highlighted by Local News (The Corps Network)
    Earlier this week several staff members from the Fresno Local Conservation Corps joined KSEE24 local news to talk about their re-entry program for formerly incarcerated youth.
  • New Push to Help Juvenile Offenders (WCTV.TV)
    The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is pushing a proposed plan it says will help keep youthful offenders out of jail and revamp the juvenile justice system.
  • Juvenile Justice: Mass. Formulating New Sentencing Policies (
    In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of murder was unconstitutional. The court declared life without parole for juveniles was “cruel and unusual punishment,” thereby in violation of the 8th Amendment.
  • Elementary-Schoolers' Arrests Alarm Justice Officials (Orlando Sentinel)
    Circuit Judge Alicia Latimore, one of three judges who handles juvenile-delinquency cases in Orange, was so concerned about the kids' arrests that she visited Cherokee's campus this fall. The arrests at Cherokee outnumber the arrests of students at Orange's 121 other public elementary schools combined.