Blog: Juvenile Justice Reform
[John Kelly, pictured below, is Associate Editor at Youth Today. His complete article is available to subscribers on the paper's website.-- Ed.]
In Indiana, a couple of techies built a case management system, Quest, that connected all the integral parties associated in juvenile and family court cases. It enabled judges to handle motions and docket changes online, staff to draft orders in real time, and juvenile justice officials to measure data and progress seamlessly.
Staffs in counties that use Quest swear by it; observers usually leave in awe when they are first introduced to it. I first saw how the system works when Indianapolis Judge Marilyn Moores off-handedly showed it to an audience during a presentation about truancy courts. About half the crowd stayed after the session to ask questions, but not about the truancy court.
Our project site in Orange and Chatham Counties, North Carolina, recently held its kick-off meeting, generating lots of excitement. Susan Powell, Community Fellow for the site -- pictured on the far left -- wrote in to tell us about it:
On Thursday, January 22, 2009, the Orange Chatham Counties Reclaiming Futures initiative hosted its kick-off meeting. Reclaiming Futures coach Elleen Deck & consultant Judy Schector did a wonderful job explaining the Reclaiming Futures model, goals, and approach to those in attendance. The Reclaiming Futures Fellows were pleased to see such a wonderful turn-out and participation by the group as a whole. Several prominent members of our community attended the meeting.
A couple days ago, we posted six tips on engaging family members in your efforts to reform the juvenile justice system and how it works with teens with drug and alcohol problems. Grace Bauer, who authored the tips, wrote to say that some excellent additional resources are coming:
Youth Today reports that the number of juveniles in the justice system who commit suicide while confined is higher than anyone thought -- worse yet, their deaths often go unreported to state authorities.
We know this because the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) commissioned a report, Characteristics of Juvenile Suicide in Confinement. Though the report was completed in 2004, it was only released yesterday. The author blames former top OJJDP administrator, J. Robert Flores for the delay.
One takeaway: youth entering detention should be given mental health assessments as soon as possible. Over half of the youth who killed themselves in detention did so within the first six days, and only 35% had received a mental health assessment by then. Stands to reason that a youth's alcohol and drug use should also be assessed at the same time.
Families can be one of the most powerful levers for changing how youth in the juvenile justice system access alcohol and drug treatment -- and improving its quality. But involving family members in reform work is difficult.
Fortunately, it's a skill that can be learned. To help you along, we're reprinting below a newsletter column written by Grace Bauer, Community Organizer for the Campaign for Youth Justice. --Ed.
Strategies for Engaging Families in
Advocacy and System Reform Efforts
by Grace Bauer
- Teen alcohol and drug treatment is often paid for with funds from the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) funds. So it was especially good news to hear that 4 million more children will be covered by the federal program.
- No word on who the permanent new Drug Czar will be. In the mean time, an interim Drug Czar was named by Obama.
- Even alcohol and drug policy groups at the state level can be subject to politics: in New Jersey, the State Comptroller audited the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse for the first time in its 20-year existence, and said its $10 million budget would never produce "measurable results."
Recently, we asked you to take a survey, in order to address some basic questions:
- At what point in the legal process do you screen youth for alcohol and drug use/abuse?
- What screening tool are you using? How well do you think it works?
- If you perform pre-adjudication screenings, how do you make sure the results do not interfere with the rights of the child in court?
Thanks to all who participated, so we can present our extremely unscientific results.
What's the JJDPA or Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)?
The JJDPA is perhaps best known for its “core requirements.”
First passed in 1974, the JJDPA has for more than 30 years served as the principal vehicle for federal, state and local government to work in partnership on delinquency prevention and improvements in juvenile justice. The federal office devoted to juvenile justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), at U.S. Department of Justice, was established by the JJDPA.
- Want a quick orientation to Reclaiming Futures?
- Work for a Reclaiming Futures initiative, and wonder how to do an "elevator speech" about it?
Check out Dr. Laura Nissen, National Director of Reclaiming Futures, in this brief, 4-minute interview on Comcast Newsmakers. It aired in a break on Comcast's CNN Headline News in late December.
Judge Bettina Borders has some questions for you.
Judge Borders is first justice of the Bristol County Juvenile Court at the Reclaiming Futures site in Bristol County, MA. Her site is in the process of developing a uniform drug screening tool.* As part of the process, the judge would like to hear from other jurisdictions about the following:
UPDATE: Youth Today's John Kelly gives the highlights of the audiocast I linked to below. (Scroll down to the fourth item on his list.)
On January 9th, at 5:18 AM (I assume that's Eastern Time), you can tune into a live audiocast of an interview with Shay Bilchik. The interview is provided by the Campaign for Youth Justice.
Join Together was chock full of interesting news this week. First, it reported that the state of Rhode Island has launched an addiction hotline, so that "children, adolescents, and adults" can get an alcohol and drug assessment within 24 hours. This will be piloted for only 3 months, but it's a huge step forward, and I can't wait to see what's learned.
Also from Join Together:
As the first, five-year pilot phase of Reclaiming Futures came to a close, each of the participating Fellowships published a report that contains highly valuable information for any community attempting to improve the way its system deals with youth caught in the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime. (Reclaiming Futures uses professional "Fellowships" of judges, probation officers, treatment professionals, community members, and local project directors to drive change in local communities. The Fellows from all participating communities gather several times a year to share what they're learning.)
These Fellowship reports are available on the Reclaiming Futures website, but at the Project Directors' conference last week, I was asked to repost them in one place. And why not? After all, they're not just useful for Reclaiming Futures communities, they're useful for any community that wishes to change the way it does business for teens in the justice system who need addiction treatment. So, here they all are --
Anyone in the field of juvenile justice or teen treatment knows that youth who return to the community after a period in a secure residential setting are in for a rough ride. Many return to drugs and crime -- even when aftercare is available.
According Dr. David Altschuler (see photo), it's not surprising that so many youth fail in aftercare, since the skills they must learn in order to succeed in residential care are not the same skills they need to succeed in the community.
What works in juvenile justice? That's always a big question. After every youth violence tragedy, government officials are asked what they intend to do about teen crime. Academics and experts are asked how to reduce delinquency, how to lower recidivism, and which programs and policies are most effective?
A few quick links that crossed our desk today:
- Many of you probably saw this on Join Together, but it's worth repeating: according to a new national survey, 19% of teens surveyed say that it's easier for them to buy prescription drugs than beer, cigarettes, or marijuana. More info on the survey from the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) at the University of Maryland here.
Over at Youth Today's the excellent blog, I ran across a link to a video of a "town hall meeting" on national juvenile justice policy sponsored by the American Bar Association and held at Georgetown Law School. I recommend that you check out Youth Today's summary of the event for highlights and policy recommendations for the Obama administration before heading over to see the video, which is nearly three hours long -- but the snippets I've seen so far made me want to watch the whole thing.