Blog: Juvenile Justice Reform

Project Reset: Counseling vs. Court for Teens’ Minor Crimes

courtroomA new pilot program in New York, tentatively called Project Reset, will offer first-time low-level teenage offenders a deal: Enter a counseling program run by the Center for Court Innovation and the charges will be dropped before arraignment.

Project Reset hopes to build on the success of a 2013 diversion program for teens in the Brooklyn arraignment court, which diverted more than 160 teens charged with minor crimes into counseling in its first year.

The goal of the new program is to intervene even earlier than the 2013 program and offer first-time offenders an opportunity to go to counseling before they appear in court. Additionally, Project Reset can help divert teens from the criminal justice system, as New York is one of the few states that charge 16 and 17 year olds as adults.

Eligible youth will be required to go to two afternoon sessions of counseling at community justice centers—leaving them with no criminal record upon completion of the sessions.

Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. is an advocate of diverting teens to counseling, stating that “a young person who had done nothing more serious than fail to pay a subway fare should not receive a trip downtown and a docket number, but a real intervention in his life, to put him on a positive path forward.”

There is a growing effort in New York to reduce the number of low-level offenders “clogging the courts,” as reported by the New York Times:

“[Brooklyn district attorney] Kenneth P. Thompson announced last year that his office would no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has sharply curtailed the practice of stopping pedestrians and frisking them for weapons and drugs in high-crime neighborhoods, which critics maintain discriminates against minorities.”

The program will start next month in two police precincts—the 25th on the Upper West Side and the 73rd in Brownsville, Brooklyn—and will be evaluated after three to six months.

Public Health Approach Being Adapted for Kids in Trouble with Substances, the Law; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • New York Under Pressure For Locking Up Teens In Adult Prisons (KQED)
    New York is one of only two states that still locks up 16- and 17-year-olds in adult prisons. A commission report released this week found that those young people — most of them black and Hispanic — face a high risk of assault and victimization behind bars and an increased risk of suicide. Gov. Andrew Cuomo now says he'll push the legislature to raise the age of adult incarceration to 18, a move that could mean the transfer of more than 800 teenagers out of state correctional facilities.

Jobs, Grants, Events and Webinars

  • Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It's free to browse and post!

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health

  • Parties hopeful meeting cleared air on youth drug court in Jacksonville (
    A plan to improve years of low participation in Jacksonville’s juvenile drug court could be finalized in as little as 30 days. The federal government sent four experts to Jacksonville on Wednesday and Thursday to meet with key players in the court and help with program implementation.

Webinar Opportunity: Updating JJDPA to Reflect New Reforms

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), enacted in 1974 and reauthorizedcjj-logo-2015in 2002, has made strides in setting standards for state and local juvenile justice systems, and providing state funding, training and evaluation. This important legislation and its reauthorizations have continued to protect youth, increase access to prevention and treatment services, and reduce transfers to the adult criminal justice system.

njjn-logoThough JJDPA has remained strong, the juvenile justice field has evolved in a way that requires the legislation to evolve and adapt.

On February 15, 2015, The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) will host a webinar addressing this. “The JJDPA: Updating Federal Law to Reflect New Reforms” will bring together national leaders in juvenile justice and policymakers, including CJJ, the executive director for Juvenile Law Center, and the Office of US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

CJJ states, “Please join us for an overview of how this legislation has helped drive reform at the state and local levels. We will also discuss how we can help ensure that federal policy reflects the new knowledge, advancements, and promising practices from the field, and how a reauthorized JJDPA might change the future landscape of juvenile justice practice.”

This webinar will be valuable for juvenile justice professionals, policymakers, advocates and allies in the fields of juvenile justice to understand how the federal landscape of juvenile justice may evolve.

Register here for the webinar.

Webinar Details

  • What: The JJDPA: Updating Federal Law to Reflect New Reforms
  • When: February 5, 2015 at 3:00pm ET
  • Hosted by: CJJ and the National Juvenile Justice Network.
  • Presenters:
    • Lara Quint, Legislative Counsel, Office of US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
    • Bob Schwartz, Executive Director, Juvenile Law Center
    • Naomi Smoot, Senior Policy Associate, Coalition for Juvenile Justice
  • Register: Register here

New Cost-Benefit Analysis Toolkit to Help Evaluate Justice Policies & Programs

cbaA new toolkit, published by the Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit (CBAU) at the Vera Institute of Justice, will help guide government agencies as they assess their justice investments: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Justice Policy Toolkit.

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is an evaluation technique that compares the costs of programs with the benefits they deliver—allowing agencies to determine the best use of budget regarding justice policies and programs.

Advocates of juvenile justice reform can use CBA briefs to spark change, as the briefs can serve as concrete examples to share with policy and decision makers when encouraging investments.

This new toolkit outlines the six fundamental steps of conducting a CBA:

  1. Identify the investment’s potential impacts.
  2. Quantify the investment’s impacts.
  3. Determine marginal costs.
  4. Calculate costs, benefits, and net present value.
  5. Test the assumptions.
  6. Report the results.

The toolkit provides real word lessons and examples from six municipal, county, and state agencies in each step and is designed to guide justice analysts, especially those who are new to CBA.

Note: This project was supported by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Rikers to Ban Isolation for Inmates 21 and Younger; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Program Strives To Keeps Kids Out Of Jail, Link Them To Services Instead (Hartford Courant)
    "The longer a child stays out of the juvenile justice system, the better the outcome is for that child," said Bernadette Conway, who is the state's chief administrative judge for juvenile matters." Avoidable school-based arrests needlessly deprive children of an optimum education and all too often grossly compromise a child's ability to succeed in life."
  • Rikers to Ban Isolation for Inmates 21 and Younger (New York Times)
    New York City officials agreed on Tuesday to a plan that would eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that would place the long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Jobs, Grants, Events and Webinars

  • Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It's free to browse and post!

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health

  • This Is What Happens When We Lock Children in Solitary Confinement (Mother Jones)
    While in isolation, Kenny—who was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder prior to the sixth grade—wrote to his mother, Melissa Bucher, begging her to make the two-hour drive to visit him. "I don't feel like I'm going to make it anymore," he wrote. "I'm in seclusion so I can't call and I'm prolly going to be in here for a while. My mind is just getting to me in here."
  • Teens Influenced by Misconceptions of Their Peers (Medical News Today)
    Research published in Developmental Psychology suggests that teenagers tend to overestimate the amount of drugs and alcohol that their peers use, as well as underestimating the amount of studying and exercise they do.
  • Eight Local Health Providers, UWM Respond to Gun Violence at Schools (
    Through a federal grant created to help communities respond to gun violence at schools, eight regional behavioral health providers and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee are working to strengthen trauma and substance abuse counseling services for youth.

Upcoming Webinar: “Remove the Shackles and Help Kids Succeed”

shacklesAn upcoming Spotlight on Youth webinar: “Remove the Shackles and Help Kids Succeed” will explore the practice of shackling, why it is harmful to our young people in the juvenile justice system, and how the practice can be removed altogether.

The webinar will take place on Jan. 16 and include guests with expert insight on this topic:

  • Judge Jay D. Blitzman, First Justice-Massachusetts Juvenile Court, Middlesex Division
  • John D. Elliott, Private Attorney, Columbia, SC
  • David A. Shapiro, Campaign Manager, Campaign Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shackling, National Juvenile Defender Center

Those that are aware of the practice have long questioned shackling in the juvenile justice system, and several counties have ongoing efforts to remove it: In Miami-Dade County, more than 20,000 youth appeared in court without shackles between 2006 and 2011—no one escaped or was harmed after shackling was removed.

Unfortunately, many are unaware that teens are often brought from detention and correctional facilities to juvenile court in leg irons, belly chains and handcuffs—before they are charged with any wrongdoing.

On this Jan. 16 episode of Spotlight on Youth, guests will describe the national movement to end the indiscriminate practice, and share their personal efforts and experiences in changing the norm for kids in juvenile court.

To listen in, visit Spotlight on Youth five minutes before the scheduled start time. Listeners are invited and encouraged to ask questions live on the air: call (347)994-1149 and push number 1 on your keypad.

When: Jan. 16, 2015

  • 3-4 p.m. Eastern
  • 2-3 p.m. Central
  • 1-2 p.m Mountain
  • 12-1 p.m. Pacific

Spotlight on Youth is a radio show that focuses on social and legal trends impacting the rights and well-being of young people. Spotlight on Youth is hosted by the Children's Law Center, Inc., a not-for-profit legal services organization dedicated to children's rights issues.

Five Reclaiming Futures Sites Chosen to Implement SBIRT

sites map

As a result of new funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, five new Reclaiming Futures sites will pilot an innovative adaptation of Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) for adolescents.

We vetted 20 competitive applications and selected three existing Reclaiming Futures sites to add SBIRT: King County, Washington; Nassau County, New York; and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

We also chose two brand news sites to incorporate the Reclaiming Futures model with SBIRT included—Washington County, Oregon, and Chittenden County, Vermont—which brings our total number of sites since inception to 41.

Each of the five pilot sites will serve at least 100 youth over the course of three years. The target will be youth who show mild to moderate levels of substance use—a population that doesn’t often qualify for or seek treatment, but who are at high risk for developing worse substance abuse problems down the road. Clinical Director for this initiative, Evan Elkin, will design an engaging, teen-friendly one to five session intervention tailored for a juvenile justice setting that can be administered flexibly depending on the severity of the youth’s substance use.

Read more from Clinical Director Evan Elkin about the SBIRT pilot.

New Common Justice Issue Brief Examines Need for Victim Services

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 4.30.05 PMAmong all of the discussions regarding inequities in our legal system, there is one impacted group that is continually left out—survivors of violence and trauma. Common Justice—a Vera Institute of Justice victim service and alternative-to-incarceration program—recently released an issue brief to spark efforts to change this: Young Men of Color and the Other Side of Harm: Addressing Disparities in Our Response to Violence.

Common Justice released this brief to raise awareness of this “often overlooked” group of victims, who are often young men of color, and to inspire further local and nationwide efforts to provide the support and services this group needs.

The brief provides background and history of this group and the issues surrounding them, why this matters for juvenile justice, the barriers to support for victims, and suggestions for future improvements. Highlights of the brief include the following:

  • Data from 1996 through 2007 revealed that young black men were the most likely to be robbed every year, most likely to be victimized by violence overall in six of the 11 years, and second most likely to be victimized in four of the 11 years.
  • Victims of violence experience negative, lasting impacts in regard to health, education, employment, finances, and future safety.
  • Stark misperceptions about what a “victim of crime” is among this group contributes to the lack of support. A 2008 Vera study: “When asked broadly if they had been “victims of crime,” they all responded no. However, when asked whether they had “had something taken from them by force or been robbed,” nine of the 10 [study participants] said yes.”
  • Current victim services lack access to services for primary needs (as determined by victims), which include “help securing employment, getting back to school or into GED programs, and developing tools to end the gang involvement or resolve the neighborhood-based conflicts that put them in harm’s way.”
  • Negative experiences with law enforcement significantly reduce likelihood that a victim will report the crime; the most recent study revealed that unreported violent crimes increased by 130 percent from 2011-2012.

Efforts to improve services and support provided to victims of crime and trauma are growing—especially for young men of color. In the last few years, a number of programs and platforms have surfaced that are dedicated to this issue, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Forward Promise initiative, the National Network of Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs, the Institute for Black Male Achievement, and the White House’s recently launched My Brother’s Keeper.

Common Justice is also developing a learning collaborative for people and organizations who are or could be working with young men of color who have been harmed by violence.

For more information, read the nine-page brief and visit the Common Justice website.

No More Solitary Confinement for Adolescent Inmates in NYC; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Expert: Juvenile Justice Report Will Spur Reform at Rikers Island (The Forum News Group)
    “This reform will promote better behavior, psychological health and emotional well-being among our youngest inmates while lessening violence,” Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte said. “It represents best practices and the least restrictive environment, allowing us to respond more appropriately to the special needs of this troubled population, and help them re-integrate into the community when they leave our care and custody.”
  • MacArthur Lauds Juvenile Justice Reformers (JJIE)
    In a written letter to the award recipients, MacArthur Foundation interim President Julia Stasch said: “No movement proceeds on the strength of research alone. Reform is animated by the passion and tenacity of the people who make a cause their cause.”

Jobs, Grants, Events and Webinars

  • Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It's free to browse and post!

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health

  • Conrad N. Hilton Foundation awards $1.35 million grant to Legal Action Center (Globe NewsWire)
    Through a $1.35 million grant over three years from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, LAC and its partners will evaluate how the full range of adolescent prevention and early intervention services are being offered and to what extent insurers are implementing these services. They also will educate service providers about federal confidentiality requirements crucial to encouraging youth to seek services.
  • LifeWise panel sheds light on youth alcohol abuse (Salt Lake City Weekly)
    Nebraska may offer the good life, but depending on which survey one is reading, its youth now rank from second to the fifth highest in the nation for binge drinking, higher than its surrounding Midwest states.


El Paso Teens Build Thanksgiving Float that Earns Community Recognition

More than 250,000 people watched and cheered from the sidelines at the annual Thanksgivingangrybirds Sun Bowl Parade in El Paso, Texas, where more than 100 “gaming mania” themed parade floats, marching bands, giant helium balloons, equestrian units and more glided down the street. Among them, the Challenge Explorers Float, whose Angry Birds themed float took home the Governor’s Award for Best Presentation of the Parade’s Theme.

The teens who constructed the Challenge Explorers Float from the ground up are part of El Paso County’s Challenge Academy, a residential Reclaiming Futures program that is part of its continuum of care and an extension of El Paso’s pro-social activities for youth. These young men and women have been through the juvenile justice system, and oftentimes do community service as part of the Academy’s activities. Building a parade float—from concept development to construction to walking in the parade—offered participants the opportunity to get involved in their local community, and collaborate with staff and family.

“Oftentimes these kids have been outcasts most of their lives, and don’t know what it’s like to be a part of something bigger and be successful at it. To start a project from nothing, come together as a unit and produce a product that wins awards is instrumental in building self-confidence,” says Director of the Challenge Academy, Sam Heredia.


El Paso’s Juvenile Probation Department was extremely involved and committed to fundraising, coordinating activities throughout the year like selling popcorn, candy gram sales and ice cream float gatherings to raise money for materials and construction. Families of the teens also got involved as part of the Academy’s family reintegration program, donating supplies and working alongside them to build the award-winning float. The collaborated effort meant that not a dime of taxpayer or county money was spent.

Roger Martinez, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer, explains: “This initiative is an example of our response to the A&E show Beyond Scared Straight. We’re learning more and more through programs like the El Paso County Challenge Academy that positive reinforcement actually has a longer lasting impact. In this case, these teens were acknowledged in a positive way by their community, which has the potential to change their mindsets and lead them to become active community members once more.”

Since its inception in 2008, El Paso County Juvenile Justice Center has embraced Reclaiming Futures’ systems change approach through community collaborations and partnerships, which have served juvenile justice youth and families through continued services beyond treatment. These collaborations have expanded to include collaboration with the local FBI Office, Homeland Security and the Sheriff’s Department, in which members of these agencies volunteer their time to act as mentors to youth in the El Paso County Drug Court Program. Members also volunteer their own time to accompany juvenile justice youth to a local gym to teach alternatives to substance use and promote healthier drug free lifestyles.

Tapping into the creative side of juvenile justice involved youth, El Paso County partners with local artists and businesses for contributions, incorporating art into to the educational curriculum utilized by Delta Academy (El Paso Independent School District) or as a catalyst for these youth to express themselves without the need to engage in substance use.

El Paso County is a great example of strong community collaborations and systems change. We are proud to share their accomplishments and look forward to seeing what they strive for next.

Study Demonstrates that Summer Jobs Reduce Violent Crime Among Teens

onesummerA recent study from the University of Chicago Crime Lab revealed that summer jobs programs for high school students from disadvantaged neighborhoods have a significant impact on reducing crime among teens.

The study focused on Chicago’s One Summer Plus program, which offers eight weeks of part-time summer employment to young people and an adult job mentor to help manage barriers to employment.

The study included 1,634 teens from 13 high-violence high schools who were almost all C students and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Twenty percent of the group had already been arrested, and 20 percent had already been victims of crime.

Compared the control group, this group experienced a 43 percent reduction in violent-crime arrests over 16 months, emphasizing the importance of pro-social activities for young people—something Reclaiming Futures believes is key to success.

A Washington Post article covering the study discussed why the results are so important: “That number is striking for a couple of reasons: It implies that a relatively short (and inexpensive) intervention like an eight-week summer jobs program can have a lasting effect on teenage behavior. And it lends empirical support to a popular refrain by advocates: ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job.’”

Researcher Sara Heller, who conducted a randomized control trial with the program, said of the outcomes:

“The results echo a common conclusion in education and health research: that public programs might do more with less by shifting from remediation to prevention. The findings make clear that such programs need not be hugely costly to improve outcomes for disadvantaged youth; well-targeted, low-cost employment policies can make a substantial difference, even for a problem as destructive and complex as youth violence.”

The decline occurred mainly after the eight-week program ended, demonstrating that the summer of employment did more than keep the teens busy—it changed their behavior after the job, as well.

For our past reporting on the impact of pro-social activities, visit:

Addressing Youth Crime by Teaching Social Skills through Sports

Stop Bullying by Promoting Pro-Social Skills on the Playground

Image from One Summer Chicago website

New Funding Opportunity to Help Eliminate Solitary Confinement

veraVera Institute of Justice has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for corrections departments in search of safe alternatives to segregation, also referred to as solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is a controversial and often debated topic in the realm of juvenile justice as teens that are segregated often experience mental health and behavioral problems—as well as a higher rate of recidivism upon release.

In the spotlight this year regarding its practices of solitary confinement was Rikers Island. Conditions at Rikers have been described as “horrific” and were condemned by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York this August, who stated that the use of solitary confinement for youths was “excessive and inappropriate.”

There is growing nation-wide support to eliminate solitary confinement entirely as evidence suggests it is an expensive and counterproductive policy for facilities and public safety.

Vera Institute of Justice, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, is now offering five state or local corrections systems a chance to explore and implement an alternative to solitary confinement as part of its new Safe Alternatives to Segregation (SAS) Initiative.

The goals of the initiative include the following:

  • Assist states and counties in reducing their use of segregation;
  • Develop, demonstrate, and evaluate alternatives to disciplinary, administrative, and protective custody segregation;
  • Raise awareness across all correctional institutions nationwide—prisons and jails—of alternatives to segregation;
  • Conduct evaluations and impact studies and make their findings known across the corrections field; and
  • Produce practitioner-focused guides to implementing alternative practices.

The SAS initiative expands on Vera’s Segregation Reduction Project, which has worked with corrections departments since 2010 in states including Washington, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania to reduce reliance on segregation.

Applications will be accepted through Jan. 30, 2015. To learn more about the SAS initiative, including the full RFP and guidelines to submitting an application, visit Vera’s website.

Honoring the Achievements of Dr. H. Westley Clark

Dr Wesley ClarkWe’re pleased to honor the achievements of Dr. H. Westley Clark in light of his recent retirement including his incredible impact on substance abuse treatment and commitment to the success of our young people.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration recognizes the strides Dr. H. Westley Clark made during his 16 years as the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), and more than 30 years in the federal government:

Wes’ professional life is one marked by non-stop accomplishments and accolades (such as the AMA’s John P. McGovern Award, Presidential Rank Award, Vernelle Fox Award from the California Society of Addiction Medicine, Solomon Carter Fuller Award from the American Psychiatric Association, and multiple Awards for Distinguished Service from the HHS Secretary). His long and distinguished career has had significant impacts on the research, practice, policies and programs in the treatment of substance use disorders. Wes is a graduate of the chemistry program at Detroit’s Wayne State University, the University of Michigan schools of medicine and public health, and Harvard law school. He also completed a two-year Substance Abuse Fellowship at the Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco, where he served as Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). He also served as senior program consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Substance Abuse Policy Program and supported a number of National Institute of Drug Abuse-funded research grants.

Reclaiming Futures is happy to have worked parallel to Dr. H. Westley Clark and support his work in substance abuse treatment. We have admired his leadership in the recovery movement and commitment to increasing access to treatment services. In 2007 and 2009, Dr. Clark secured Reclaiming Futures funding from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), along with OJJDP, to help us support sites implementing our model. He will be recognized for his lasting accomplishments, and we will continue to look toward his work for solutions and inspiration.

Image from SAMHSA website

Juvenile Court Records: Is a Lack of Protection Harming Teens’ Future Success?

juvenilerecordsThe Juvenile Law Center, a public interest law firm in Philadelphia, issued a “report card” this week demonstrating that the records of juvenile offenders are more easily available to the public than they should be, creating obstacles to future success for many teens.

Juvenile records contain details about a child’s family, social history, mental health history, substance abuse history, education, and involvement with the law. According to the Juvenile Law Center’s new national scorecard, the majority of states lack the protections necessary to keep this information confidential. Instead, many states allow these records to be accessed by the media, employers, government agencies and victims, which can create future barriers to housing, education and employment for teen offenders.

Failed Policies, Forfeited Futures: A Nationwide Scorecard on Juvenile Records is the first comprehensive evaluation of state policies that govern the confidentiality and expungement of juvenile court records. No state earned the maximum five-star rating, and the national average was three out of the possible five stars.

These records often remain open to allow courts, correction officials and juvenile agencies to plan a course of treatment and rehabilitation; however, few states have systems that prohibit the public from accessing these records later on.

“There is a misperception that juvenile records are confidential and automatically destroyed when a youth is no longer under court supervision,” said Riya Saha Shah, an attorney at the Juvenile Law Center and architect of the study. “Permanent open records are like a ball and chain that prevent young people from becoming productive adults.”

Of the many teens arrested in the U.S. each year, 95 percent are for nonviolent offenses, meaning these young people were never a threat to public safety and often do not have further trouble with the law. Yet, these nonviolent records can negatively impact the rest of their adult life when viewed by potential employers, landlords or college admissions offices.

To prevent these negative impacts, the Juvenile Law Center has 10 recommendations to help keep juvenile records from affecting teens’ adult life:

  • Records should not be widely available online.
  • Records should be sealed to the public before they are expunged.
  • Records should be automatically sealed and expunged.
  • Expungement should include physical destruction and electronic deletion.
  • Expungement eligibility should begin once a case is closed.
  • All offenses should be eligible for expungement.
  • One entity should be designated to inform youth about the expungement.
  • Forms for expungement should be youth-friendly.
  • Filing for expungement should be free.
  • There should be sanctions for failure to comply.

The Juvenile Law Center also encouraged policymakers, states, attorneys, and court personnel to review juvenile record laws and protections and look for ways to improve them.

Register for Part II in this Webinar Series: Family Involvement in Juvenile Justice

Last week, I highlighted the value of family and mentor involvement in a teen’s life, particularlymentalhealth teens who have been involved in the juvenile justice system. This week and next, the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change are building on that topic with a webinar series dedicated to family involvement in juvenile justice.

The first part, “Working with Families,” occurred this week and introduced strategies for teens and families to address behavioral health needs together, and how to integrate family engagement in a strategic and productive way.

The second of the series, “Navigating the Juvenile Justice System,” will be presented December 4 from 2-3 p.m. ET. This follow-up webinar will focus on facilitating understanding for families—engaging families by sharing insight about the system and ensuring they know how to access available services.

Family involvement is critical for youth with behavioral health disorders who are involved with the juvenile justice system. Families need information, training, and support to help them become knowledgeable about the juvenile justice system and effective advocates for their children. At the same time, juvenile justice systems need to ensure that their policies and procedures support family involvement and that staff are trained to better understand the family perspective, the benefits of family involvement, and specific strategies for family engagement.

Webinar: Navigating the Juvenile Justice System
When: December 4 from 2-3 p.m. ET
Presenters: Sarah Cusworth-Walker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Division of Public Behavioral Health and Justice Policy at the University of Washington; Mathilda de Dios, Program Manager at the Northwestern Children and Family Justice Center in Chicago, Illinois
Register here

Reclaiming Futures in the Sea of Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives

In the national scope of evidence-supported juvenile justice “reforms”, a question is often posed as to which approach or model makes the most sense to potential adopters. Or said another way, can we avoid “model fatigue” by adopting one reform methodology that gets us the best results with the most cost effective strategies?

Understanding the Impact of Trauma on Juvenile Justice: New Tool to Support Efforts

Due to the connection between ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and juvenile justice system involvement, it has become increasingly important that the system become more trauma-informed in its processes.

The term ACEs refers to childhood abuse, neglect, and general household dysfunction that negatively affects a child’s development. To improve the treatment of young people impacted by ACEs in the juvenile justice system, there is an ongoing effort to increase knowledge of trauma-informed care and how it can improve systems in health, justice and education.

Communities like ACEs Connection, which work to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and to change systems to stop traumatizing already traumatized people, are already paving the way to combat this problem in the future.

The latest resource to support these efforts is a new tool created by JBS International and Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health. These two organizations came together to build a free online tool called “Trauma Informed Care: Perspectives and Resources” that provides insights and resources for those who want to be more trauma-informed.

The tool includes the following to allow users to take advantage of existing research, knowledge, practices, and approaches that have already shown to be effective in addressing trauma:

  • Video interviews of national, state, tribal, and local leaders in many child-serving systems; developers of evidence-based treatments and practices; physicians; researchers; administrators of provider organizations; clinicians; youth and young adults; families; and advocates who share lessons learned and identify remaining gaps.
  • Issue briefs that provide an introduction and overview for each of the tool’s eight modules.
  • Comprehensive resource lists to support users in understanding how to build trauma-informed systems and organizations.

Explore the eight modules of the tool on the site, which is now live!

For past reporting on ACEs in the juvenile justice system, see the following:

Family Engagement in the Juvenile Justice System: Still a Long Way to Go

The role of family and mentors in any teen’s life contributes to their success and healthy Reclaiming Futures Programfuture. The role of family and mentors for teens in the juvenile justice system or a juvenile correctional facility is even more critical.

Family engagement in the juvenile justice system is not a new concept, but it is a key component to ensuring at-risk teens stay clear of substance abuse and crime. A recent Juvenile Justice Information Exchange article addresses this need in youth detention centers:

“Experts, supported by a small but growing body of research, say fostering family engagement improves incarcerated youths’ behavior, helps families feel more connected, reduces disciplinary incidents and boosts the staff morale.”

“Moreover, strengthening these connections better prepares youths for a return to the community upon release — most return to their family homes — and reduces repeat offenses.”

While the author Gary Gately does identify some successful programs where family involvement and treatment are front and center, he shares that most systems nationally are more focused on punishment, and oftentimes there exists a contentious relationship between family members and juvenile facility staff members.

Reclaiming Futures’ sites work with a wide variety of community members and resources to contribute to youth success as they remain in their community. Led by the community fellow(s), sites link youth to mentors, education, employment, job training, hobbies, sports, volunteer opportunities, faith communities, and other prosocial activities of interest to youth.

As we’ve seen among Reclaiming Futures sites who have achieved success with this strategy, family involvement and mentors should be closely integrated into a teen’s life for optimal results. For example, Reclaiming Futures in Santa Cruz is taking preventative action with a partnership with Hands on Fatherhood, encouraging fathers and father-figures to create meaningful relationships with their kids. Also, Reclaiming Futures in Snohomish County saw success with its Promising Arts in Recovery program, which added a mentorship and creative arts component to treatment, resulting in substance-free teens who become productive members of their communities.

Gately shares some wonderful examples of successful family integration efforts around the country. Those, paired with Reclaiming Futures’ efforts to connect teens with support systems during and after exiting the juvenile justice system, are pioneering the way to a deeper systemic impact that can hopefully lead to communities and facilities committed to full family and community engagement.

Examining the Keys to Success for Connecticut’s Juvenile Justice System

keysIn 2002, Connecticut’s contracted rehabilitation programs for juvenile offenders were discontinued, as they were not producing the results necessary to justify their costs.

The lack of the programs’ success was brought to light when a study by the Connecticut Policy and Economic Council, which assessed the return on taxpayer dollars from juvenile justice programs, revealed that recidivism rates among juveniles in the contracted programs were significantly higher than that of a matched sample with no programming. The funding for these programs was cut and reinvested elsewhere.

However, Connecticut has made a complete turnaround in recent years with a 40 percent decrease in arrests, calling for an examination of how they’ve made such staggering improvements.

A recent article in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange emphasized the following as significant developments that have gotten the state this far:

  • Connecticut changed the policy that processed 16- and 17-year-olds through adult court. Now they fall within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system. While this “Raise the Age” reform was expected to double juvenile court intake, intakes are actually lower.
  • Connecticut invested in juvenile probation officers and boasts some of the lowest officer/client ratios in the country. Officers are also afforded tremendous training in motivational interviewing, family engagement, adolescent development and more.
  • A Connecticut-specific risk/needs assessment instrument was created, normed and validated, and is regularly updated and refined, as is the process the assessment tool is used with.
  • An automated case plan helps focus officers and clients alike on specific goals and ensures appropriate treatment.
  • Data systems were developed to carefully monitor outcomes.
  • Connecticut, in subscribing to the Result-Based Accountability tenets, asks and answers quantitatively on a quarterly basis: How much is being done, how well is it being done and is anyone better off?

Note: Read the full article on JJIE for further details on Connecticut’s past and future plans to continue improving its juvenile justice system.

Examining Blame and The Power of Forgiveness Within the Justice System

A recent podcast on Radiolab, “Blame,” examines the question of accountability that often surrounds criminal justice and mental health. Listen in for two enticing stories filled with observations on self-identity, the impact of guilt, and the power of forgiveness.

The episode also includes a discussion on how the legal system could be improved—including an argument that when sentencing, we should forget about blame altogether and focus on the probability of future recidivism instead.