Blog: Juvenile Justice Reform

Encouraging Juvenile Justice Data from Maine

Maine Juvenile Justice DataThe Maine Statistical Analysis Center recently released their 2012 Maine Juvenile Justice Data Book, which presents data and findings of youth involved with the Maine juvenile justice system. The results are encouraging, with arrest rates for both violent and drug offences dropping along with average daily population of youth in detention. Detailed findings can be found below.
Key Findings from the Data Book (emphasis mine)

  • From 2001 to 2010, the overall arrest rate of youth in Maine decreased by 26%, from 67 arrests per 1,000 youth to 50.
  • Most arrests in Maine are of adults. The proportion of youth arrests to all arrests in Maine dropped from a high of 17% in 2001 to just 12% in 2010, or 1 in every 8.5 arrests. Since 2001, the number of arrests of youth has decreased by 35%, while arrests of adults increased by 2%.
  • From 2001 to 2010, arrests of Maine youth for violent offenses decreased by 28%. Violent offenses comprised only 1.7% of all arrests of youth in 2010.
  • Arrests of Maine youth for drug offenses decreased by 33% from 2001 to 2010. As a proportion of all arrests of youth in Maine, arrests for drug offenses remained relatively stable, at a rate of 8 to 9% per year.
  • The average daily population of Maine youth in detention fell by 37.3% between 2006 and 2011.
  • Minority youth in Androscoggin and Cumberland Counties were statistically significantly less likely to be diverted from the juvenile justice system for an offense than white youth between 2005 and 2010.
  • Adjudicated youth who were placed in a Maine youth development center recidivated within one year of discharge from DJS supervision at a rate of 33%.

Everett Herald Features Photos from Young Artists

The sixth step of the Reclaiming Futures model is "transition," which highlights the importance of creating opportunities for young people in the community based on teens' unique strengths and interests.
Mentors in Snohomish County, Washington, are connecting with young people through Promising Artists in Recovery, a program created through Reclaiming Futures Snohomish County and the Denney Juvenile Justice Center in Everett, Washington. 
The Everett Herald is celebrating this very compelling photography in print and online. (Photo at right by student Jordyn Brougher.)

California's County-By-County Youth Crime Trends Defy Conventional Theory

Earlier this week, CJCJ launched its California juvenile justice interactive map, displaying a plethora of data regarding local youth arrest and confinement practices by county. This is particularly pertinent given that California’s statewide trends are so extraordinary: Youth crime in California is at its lowest level since statewide statistics were first compiled in 1954.

The county-by-county data paint a more nuanced picture of juvenile justice in California. Among its 58 counties, the application of juvenile justice policy is radically varied, and with mixed results.

For example, San Francisco County has the highest youth arrest rate in the state, due primarily to the fact that San Francisco is the only county comprised wholly of a city. Most arrests involve youth of color from the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Despite high rates of violent crime, the county utilizes confinement infrequently, displaying very low levels of state youth correctional commitments and lower than average use of its local custodial facilities; 49% of beds in the county’s two juvenile justice facilities (juvenile hall + camp) were occupied in 2010. Driving this commitment to rehabilitate even the hardest-to-serve youth in the community is a wealth of nonprofit service providers and dedicated local government leadership.

Rethinking Prison Terms For Juveniles and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Success in Juvenile Justice Diversions May Influence Treatment of Adult Offenders in Florida (
    In October, officials in one Florida community announced that its local police force would now have the ability to issue civil citations in lieu of formal arrests for certain crimes. The Leon County, Fla., measure targeting a largely adult-offender base takes many cues from the state’s juvenile justice system, which has seen vast improvements to juvenile crime rates due to lock-up alternatives.
  • Rethinking Prison Terms For Juveniles (
    Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and new developments in psychology and brain science are prompting Connecticut to reconsider prison sentences for juveniles. The courts allow for a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, but juveniles in Connecticut can still receive mandatory sentences of life without parole in adult court.
  • Juvenile Justice Reform Priority for State Lawmakers (
    Now that the election is over, lawmakers say they have a lot of unfinished business to get back to. Georgia goes back to legislative session in January, but Representative Wayne Howard said the planning starts now. Howard acknowledges that there wasn’t enough funding for juvenile justice reform last year, but that they hope to fit it in the budget this year.
  • I-Team: Shackles Coming Off Juveniles in Court (
    For the first time since anyone can remember, juveniles accused of a crime in Clark County, Nevada, are not wearing shackles in court. For years, children have appeared with chains at their hands, waist and feet, a policy that applied to all of those accused, regardless of risk.

Celebrating 10 Years of Success During Tough Fiscal Times

Evan Elkin, Director, Department of Planning and Government Innovation at the Vera Institute of Justice, discusses the success and longevity of Nassau County Reclaiming Futures, despite the decimation of county and local budgets over the past three years in New York. 
The work goes on because the team pulls togther tightly and reinvents itself around the model


Juvenile Justice Reforms Should Consider Adolescent Development

A new federally commissioned report led by University of Virginia law professor Richard Bonnie lays out a blueprint to reform the nation's juvenile justice system to better hold youth offenders accountable, prevent recidivism and ensure adolescent offenders are treated fairly.
The report, "Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach," was commissioned by the National Research Council at the request of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. The report's authors argue that the juvenile justice system must be overhauled to incorporate an emerging body of knowledge about adolescent development and effective interventions, which should improve outcomes for young offenders and society as a whole.
"What we're trying to come up with is a juvenile-justice system that has accountability without criminalization," said Bonnie, vice chairman of the Committee on Assessing Juvenile Justice Reform, which produced the report. "It's important that kids be held accountable. But the same tools of accountability that are used for adults are not a good fit for adolescents because they interfere with successful development rather than promoting it."

Can Music Help Transform the Juvenile Justice System?

A recently released exploratory study commissioned by WolfBrown and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute examines the potential for music in teens involved with the juvenile justice system. Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections Program has been providing musical workshops for the past four years for teens in various states of the juvenile justice system, including those in detention and on probation.
The study, “May The Songs I Have Written Speak For Me: An Exploration Of The Potential Of Music In Juvenile Justice,” is broken down into the following sections (via the news release):

  • A history of juvenile justice in the United States with an emphasis on the long-standing tension between incarceration and rehabilitation
  • An overview of the current movement for reform
  • A summary of basic research on adolescent development, with an emphasis on the new brain science that explains why adolescents are prone to risk-taking, thrill-seeking, and emotionally-driven choices, coupled with a discussion of the potential of music to reach and affect adolescents
  • A review of research and evaluations from an international set of music programs in both adult and juvenile corrections facilities, with an emphasis on what such programs accomplish and the specific effects they have
  • A reflection on the design principles emerging from effective programs
  • An examination of the current work in juvenile justice supported by Carnegie Hall and the Administration for Children’s Services in New York, with an emphasis on the issues and choices that are arising as this work enters a second, deeper, and more challenging phase.

Kid Courts Should Use Kid Friendly Language

Upon entering the courtroom with his defense attorney, the child starts waving at the judge. When the defense attorney asks the child, “What are you doing?” The child replied, “I’m waving my rights.”[1]
Across our country, children are being funneled through the juvenile justice system. The majority of these children have no real understanding of the court processes they are involved in or the legal consequences that may affect not only their juvenile record, but also their lives. Though juvenile courts are designed specifically for children, the language utilized by attorneys and judges is comparable to a foreign language to children that find themselves involved in the juvenile justice system.
Season 1, Episode 6 of the HBO series, The Wire, illustrates the type of legalese utilized in juvenile courts.[2] At a juvenile court hearing, Bodie, a 16-year-old boy, attempts to follow the rapid-fire dialogue that is occurring between his attorneys, the prosecutor, and the judge.[3] The judge and attorneys use terms such as “respondent,” “juvenile,” “delinquent petition,” “commitment hearing,” “assault,” “narcotics,” “transaction,” “remuneration,” “manipulated by traffickers,” and “home monitoring.”[4] He seems to get lost in the flurry of legalese and technical terms. Bodie seems to have no concept of what this dialogue entails, what any of these terms mean in relation to him, or the potential consequences. He appears to leave the juvenile court hearing with no real comprehension or appreciation for the juvenile justice system. In fact, later in the episode, he remarks to Officer Carver and Officer Herc that “the juvenile system in this city is f*#$%@ up.”[5] These are common scenes in most juvenile courts around the country. Though the juvenile courts are supposed to be designed specifically for children, they do not utilize language that is designed for children to understand the legal expectation placed upon them.

REPORT: School Exclusionary Discipline Policies Expensive, Ineffective

A new report, Breaking Rules, Breaking Budgets: Cost of Exclusionary Discipline in 11 Texas School Districts, by nonprofit Texas Appleseed shares the negative impacts of the exclusionary disciplinary methods in Texas schools. The study surveyed 11 school districts to discover the cost-benefit ratio of exclusionary discipline and how it affects students and communities. Exclusionary discipline includes out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to alternative education programs which leads to high human and financial costs.
In 2011, the Council of State Governments released a groundbreaking report documenting the negative impacts suspension and expulsion have on students in Texas. With many schools utilizing discretionary sentencing for minor violations, the high costs and negative impacts of exclusionary discipline are hindering the Texas public school system.
Excessive state money is being spent on out-of-school suspensions and school security rather than social work services. With 75% of violations strictly school code violations, the annual cost to educate one student through exclusionary discipline methods is three times the average cost of educating a student in the regular classroom.
The Texas Appleseed report gives the following recommendations to help reduce the human and financial costs of exclusionary discipline:

Experts Say Mental Health Effects of Hurricane Sandy Could be Powerful and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Juvenile Court Reform Details Emerging (
    Shelby County, Tennessee, Juvenile Court Chief Administrative Officer Larry Scroggs describes the court as being “sort of at the end of the beginning” in a review process by the U.S. Justice Department. And after this summer’s scathing report from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division of the court’s due process practices, Scroggs told those at a public hearing this week that the plan for systemic changes at the court will likely be a three- to five-year process.
  • Juvenile Justice Judge Speaks to At-Risk Students about Staying in School (
    As students celebrate Red Ribbon Week, the Burke County Alternative School in Georgia invited juvenile justice judge Doug Flanagan to talk to them about the importance of staying in school. Judge Flanagan says this is one of the best schools in Burke County.
  • After the Violence, the Rest of Their Lives (The New York Times)
    At a time when the homicide rate in Chicago has risen sharply, jumping 25 percent over all since last year and 100 percent or more in a few gang-heavy neighborhoods, the research project offers a portrait of both the perpetrators and the victims in struggling, gang-ridden neighborhoods.

King County, Washington, Celebrates 10 Years of Reclaiming Futures

Through Reclaiming Futures, King County, Washington is changing the experience for young people in the justice system with substance abuse and mental health problems.
On November 7, they celebrated 10 years, having helped thousands of teens get what they need – more treatment, better treatment and beyond treatment – to turn their lives around.
For 10 years, Reclaiming Futures Seattle-King County has partnered with courts, treatment facilities, juvenile justice centers and communities to help teens break the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime.
They have been successful by integrating the Reclaiming Futures model into their policies and by providing:

  • Comprehensive screening using the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN)
  • Adolescent-specific, evidence-based treatment models
  • Support to juvenile justice youth who also have mental health issues
  • A mentoring program
  • High Fidelity Wraparound model to nurture and support youth on probation and beyond 

In October, Jerry Large of The Seattle Times honored King County for "a better way of dealing with juvenile-justice and family-court issues."
Congratulations to Reclaiming Futures Seattle-King County for you dedication and hard work!

Registration Now OPEN for Georgetown Conference on At-Risk Children and Youth

Georgetown University, the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI), and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) are pleased to announce that registration is now open for the inaugural Georgetown Public Policy Institute LEAD Conference (Leadership. Evidence. Analysis. Debate.): Positive Outcomes for At-Risk Children and Youth: Improving Lives Through Practice and System Reform.
The Georgetown Public Policy Institute LEAD Conference is an annual national event that brings together experts and key stakeholders to examine a particular policy challenge and discuss potential solutions. This year’s inaugural event will invite attendees to explore the following issues related to at-risk children and youth:

Most Popular Juvenile Justice Blog Posts | October 2012

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

Connecting Teen Fathers Behind Bars with their Children

The Baby Elmo Project provides parenting education for incarcerated teen fathers through the use of media and experiential learning to develop and strengthen relationships between young parents and their babies. Each educational session is followed by a visit between the incarcerated teen parent and his child. Below, a young father incarcerated at Cuyahoga Hills describes his experience with the Baby Elmo program at the facility, piloted by the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
My daughter was born on June 30, 2011, after I had already been locked up for two months. I saw my daughter for the first time through glass and was unable to hold her, so I held her for the first time in October 2011. Before I was transferred to Cuyahoga Hills, I was only able to see my daughter the last Saturday of each month for 1 hour. It didn’t seem like enough time because as soon as she would warm up to me it would be time for them to go.
I was transferred to CHJCF in January 2012. Things were very different there: I only saw my daughter once between January and May 2012 because visits with children required a “special visit request.” I wanted more time.

Troubled Teens Could Benefit from Online Access to Health Records and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Why So Many Hawaiian, Samoan And Filipino Youth In Justice System? (Honolulu Civil Beat)
    Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and mixed-race youth are disproportionately represented in Hawaii's juvenile justice system, a recent study concludes. The statewide analysis found that Hawaiian, Samoan and Filipino youth "fare worse than Caucasians at the stages of arrest," a pattern that continues as the young people move through detention, probation and protective services.
  • More Juvenile Offenders Put Through Diversion Programs, Less Locked Up (
    Fewer young people in New Jersey are being locked up for offenses they commit, so states a report issued Wednesday by Newak-based children’s advocacy group Advocates for Children of New Jersey. The “Kids Count Special Report: Juvenile Justice” states that last year, the state incarcerated nearly 7,000 fewer juveniles than it did prior to the start of an initiative to bring down the what ACNJ deemed to be over use of juvenile detention.
  • Minorities Prevalent in Juvenile Justice System (
    In Minnesota, juveniles who are minorities are three times as likely to be arrested than young people who are white. A report from the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs compares rates of minority youth in the state's juvenile justice system to those of white youth. The report finds that youth of color are more than one and a half times more likely to be securely detained than white youth.
  • 'A Door to Anywhere': Juvenile Justice Center Aims to Get Kids on the Right Track (
    "When the juvenile court system started in Chicago 110 years ago, they realized that there's hope for children," Arizona Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel told an audience of 300 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday for the new Yavapai County Juvenile Justice Center in Prescott.
  • Study Reveals Disparities in Juvenile Justice (New America Media)
    Youth-of-color are disparately represented at all stages of justice-system processing in Minnesota, according to a report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs. The OJP report compares rates of involvement of youth-of-color at key stages of Minnesota’s juvenile justice system to those of white youth.

Why I’m a Reclaiming Futures Advocate: Evidence-Based Practices and Community Engagement in North Carolina

Juvenile crime is decreasing nationwide. But here in North Carolina, our drop in teen crime is almost double the national average. In fact, violent crimes committed by teens 16 and younger have dropped by nearly 37%. So how did we accomplish this?
In 2003, we shifted our approach to focus on prevention and treatment. More recently, we’ve begun implementing the Reclaiming Futures model to coordinate care and improve drug and alcohol treatment for justice-involved youth.
When I first learned of Reclaiming Futures, my heart beat faster over the prospects of what it could accomplish. I immediately recognized early on what I’ve now come to describe as Reclaiming Futures’ “practice principles” – those elements of daily and organizational practice that make it work, and that improve or reform the system in which they are embedded.
These principles are of my own modification. Yet to me, they capture the essence of juvenile court reforms as catalyzed by Reclaiming Futures:

  • Evidence-based (data driven) decision making – we should attempt with all intention to take our personal values and cultures out of the decisions we make regarding vulnerable youth. Reclaiming Futures drives this through evidence-based screening, assessment and the use of evidence-informed clinical interventions.
  • Judicial leadership and court management – that’s right, without the judges’ buy-in, nothing in the juvenile court flies. And I’ve found that Reclaiming Futures judges buy in because they become significantly better informed by the data collected, the teams giving input around the table, and clear options for kids under their supervision and care. This “stakeholder buy-in” includes a commitment from judges to regularly bring cases back into the courtroom for reviews to recognize both the positive and negative changes that may be occurring with youth.
  • Engaged communities with court staff having a primary case management function (if the youth is on supervision or an agreed-upon court plan) – sort of a corollary to the judicial leadership bullet, having a focal point in the juvenile justice system for coordinating services, engaging formal and informal helping systems, and balancing public safety with treatment, intervention and pro-social engagement makes perfect sense…and Reclaiming Futures sets up this organizational picture by virtue of the 6-step model. This does not mean that the court staff “control” the process; rather, they are the accountable hub in the wheel of collaboration and case management since they are required by law to be accountable for case outcomes to the juvenile court judges.
  • Continuous quality management and improvement – Reclaiming Futures is designed to be driven by constant monitoring, feedback, team meetings and data consideration. In my view, every juvenile court should be doing the exact same thing (with or without Reclaiming Futures). By necessity, these processes will require sharing of information and data within and across agencies and systems --- and after all, shouldn’t we be finding ways to do this so that the system adapts to the child/family and not the other way around? These principles drive excellence that the methodology for measuring both process and outcome.

Minnesota Reports on Disproportionate Minority Contact in its Juvenile Justice System

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

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

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

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

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

Juvenile Justice Reform

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

Diverting At-Risk Girls Away from the Juvenile System

While the number of boys in the juvenile justice system has dropped over the past decade, the number of girls in the system has actually increased. But that doesn't mean we have more violent girls nowadays. Over half the girls in the juvenile justice system are detained for non-violent transgressions, including skipping school, breaking curfew or running away, reports NPR reporter Carrie Johnson. And most of the girls have family problems, trauma or a history of abuse. 
So what can we do?
At Reclaiming Futures, we believe that through treatment and pro-social activities, communities can reclaim their troubled young people. We agree with Minnesota prosecutor James Backstrom who told Johnson that, "if we're going to reduce crime in America in the long run, we have to start with our kids, with early intervention and prevention efforts." That's why we create teams of juvenile court judges, treatment providers, probation officers and community officers to coordinate efforts and intervene in the lives of troubled girls and boys. By devoting resources to our young people and connecting them with treatment and caring adults, we can turn their lives around while keeping our communities safe.