Blog: Juvenile Justice Reform

Breakthrough: Mental Health Solutions for Teens in the Juvenile Justice System

Did you know that around 70 percent of all youth in contact with the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder? 
A new white paper by the Collaborative for Change—a training, technical assistance and education center and a member of the Models for Change Resource Center Partnership—discusses the scope of this problem, scientific breakthroughs that can help, and how communities can adopt better solutions for youth with mental health needs in the juvenile justice system.
In the white paper, Better Solutions for Youth with Mental Health Needs in the Juvenile Justice System, the substantive focus of the Collaborative for Change includes: 

1. Mental health screening within juvenile justice settings
2. Diversion strategies and models for youth with mental
health needs
3. Adolescent mental health training for juvenile justice
staff and police
4. Guidance around the implementation of evidence-based
5. Training and resources to support family involvement in
the juvenile justice system
6. Juvenile competency

Access the full white paper on

2014 Brings Change to the Georgia Juvenile Justice System; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Juvenile Justice Redefined (
    Times change. And science changes. And however belatedly sometimes the law needs to change to take all of that into account. In reaction to some admittedly horrific crimes, lawmakers — here and around the country — rewrote laws that allowed juveniles to be sentenced in adult courts to some very adult penalties, including life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • 2014 Brings Change to the Georgia Juvenile Justice System (
    Georgia is making some changes when it comes to juvenile offenders, a new law will be put in place to reduce the number of minors in lockup and help save the state thousands of dollars. Starting this year, only those who commit serious offenses will be held in custody and as for those accountable for minor offenses, they will be placed in community based programs instead.
  • Looking Back: A Year in Juvenile Justice (
    As 2013 concludes and 2014 begins, JJIE has compiled a selection of some of our most compelling stories from the last year. Collectively, these articles tell of issues in juvenile mental health, improvements in alternative forms of treatment, the danger of stop and frisk, and more.

Confronting Bias in the Juvenile Justice System; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Black Girls Disproportionately Confined; Struggle for Dignity in Juvenile Court Schools (New Pittsburgh Courier)
    African American girls continue to be disproportionately over-represented among girls in confinement and court-ordered residential placements. They are also significantly over-represented among girls who experience exclusionary discipline, such as out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and other punishment.
  • Teen-Produced Video Highlights Campaign to ‘Raise the Age’ (
    Last summer, a group of teens enrolled in a program at the New York Center for Juvenile Justice decided to take on what they see as an unfair practice in a recently released video called “Because I’m 16.”
    “Because I’m 16, I can’t drive at night,” a teen says as the video begins. It lists other things you can’t do as a 16-year-old -- drink, smoke, buy a lottery ticket, see an R-rated movie.
  • Reforming the Juvenile Justice System Could Save Hawaii Millions (
    Hawaii is spending nearly $200,000 per bed per year to house juvenile offenders, most of whom got in trouble for non-violent low-level crimes. But the state could save millions of dollars a year by focusing only on the most serious offenders and putting the savings back into the community to help with mental health and substance abuse programs for young offenders, juvenile justice experts say.
  • Confronting Bias in the Juvenile Justice System (
    In the ABC News video, the white youth and the black youth both appear to be trying to do the same thing: steal a bike in broad daylight in a community park. But the two actors playing thieves, both filmed by hidden cameras at different times, get decidedly different reactions from passers-by.

How to Help Teens in Detention During the Holidays

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2010, but we thought you might find it useful.juvenile-justice-system_scraggly-tree-with-one-christmas-bulb-institutional-setting
We know that teens in the juvenile justice system generally have better outcomes when they're connected with their families while they're detained or incarcerated. During the holidays, their feelings of isolation and despair are magnified (and their family members often feel the same way). 
It can make all the difference to have someone remember them during the holidays, and it can be a great opportunity to partner with community organizations. 
Don't know what to do?  Then check out this excellent Holiday Toolkit from the Campaign for Youth Justice. (Be patient - I find the PDF can take a while to load.) It can help you plan:

  • a party or special event at the detention facility (or wherever the youth are locked up);
  • a holiday gift-giving event;
  • a walk-through of the facility by legislators or local policy makers; or
  • a holiday-card campaign.

It's even got sample language for cards, invitations, and a media advisory.  Try it -- and let us know how it goes!

Yelling, Threatening Parents Harm Teens' Mental Health; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • OP-ED: U.S. Must Increase Juvenile Justice Protections for Children (
    "Chicago, my hometown, was the home of the world’s first juvenile court. We are very proud of our history in the pioneering of a separate and more rehabilitative court for children in the United States. And so it comes as a shock to realize that children in the United States have fewer – significantly fewer – legal protections than children in other nations."
  • Gov. Mead of Wyoming Seeks to Collect Juvenile Justice Data (
    Gov. Matt Mead is asking state lawmakers to budget $500,000 for a system that would allow officials to track information about juvenile offenders in the state. Tony Young, Mead's deputy chief of staff, said Thursday that the money would cover installation of the system to track data about young offenders at the five juvenile detention centers in the state, as well as the Wyoming Boys School and Wyoming Girls School.
  • Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative Expands Across Indiana (
    Indiana’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) will include nineteen counties as the initiative expands across the state. Eleven counties will join the eight current JDAI counties thanks to a partnership of all three branches of government.
  • OP-ED: Diagnosis: Adolescence, Not Otherwise Specified (
    "Think back to your teenage years for a moment. Were you ever impulsive? Was it important to fit in? Did you make poor decisions? Did you ever do something that (if you had been caught) could have led to serious consequences? Don’t worry if you answered yes to any or all of these questions: you are not alone. For those working with teenagers, the good news is that we now know more than ever about why adolescents tend to have these characteristics or behaviors."

Powerful Video About Youth in Adult Criminal System

Are you ready to be moved? Please take 1.5 minutes to watch "Because I’m 16," a video collaboration between Judge Michael A. Corriero, who presided over the cases of youth in the adult criminal court system; T.J. Parsell a filmmaker who as a teenager served time in an adult prison; and a group of students in the New York Center for Juvenile Justice’s summer associates program.
This video was made possible by the generous support of The Sirus Fund, Linda Genereux & Timur Galen, and the MacArthur Family Charitable Foundation.

Shifts in Juvenile Justice Legislation Spark Debate Among Key Influencers

The shift from the tough-on-crime approach of the 1980s and 1990s has been visible through newly enacted laws (in 23 states) aiming to keep teens out of adult prisons and court systems. This shift is a result of the growing amount of research that suggests placing young people in adult court leads to repeat offenses.
However, some claim that these new laws cause needless delays to prosecution and are an insult to victims. Last Thursday, Diane Rehm and a panel of guests covered this topic and the controversies surrounding it on The Diane Rehm Show.
Guests on the panel included John Schwartz, national correspondent, The New York Times; Liz Ryan, president, Campaign for Youth Justice; and Dan May, district attorney, Colorado Springs.
Throughout the discussion, it became clear that Mr. May opposed this shift in legislation, while Ms. Ryan and Mr. Schwartz supported the shift. This kept the segment interesting and addressed both ends of the spectrum.

“Recruitment, Re-engagement & Re-entry: Incorporating the Youth Voice into Juvenile Justice Reform” Webinar

Teens and their families are often not included in important discussions on how to improve the juvenile justice system. Two programs with growing support are working to alleviate this void across the United States: the Raising Our Youth As Leaders Project (ROYAL) and the Washington State Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice Youth Committee (WA-PCJJ).
On Nov. 21, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice held a webinar discussing the progress and future of these programs, “Recruitment, Re-engagement & Re-entry: Incorporating the Youth Voice into Juvenile Justice Reform.
The webinar addressed the benefits, steps to engage, and challenges of including young people in juvenile justice reform efforts with the help of two knowledgeable and invested presenters:

  • Starcia Ague - Youth and Family Advocate Program Administrator, Juvenile Justice Rehabilitation Administration; Co-Chair Youth Committee, Washington State Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice
  • Debra R. Baker - Project Director, The Raising Our Youth As Leaders Project (ROYAL), King County Department of Public Defense

Important takeaways from this informative webinar include:

  • Young people representing the youth voice on juvenile justice reform serve as an effective advocacy tool and provide a perspective that moves leaders to implement change.
  • Including teens in reform efforts empowers them to become the next generation of advocates, while also developing their leadership and life skills.
  • Programs working with young people need to meet standards for organizational readiness to provide successful mentorship and support to teens involved or likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system.

For more information, watch the webinar in full:

Hocking County Ohio Juvenile Justice Fellow Recognized for Outstanding Service

Yessika Barber, Hocking County Ohio Reclaiming Futures Juvenile Justice Fellow, received the Hocking County Substance Abuse Prevention Award on Monday, October 28 at the Athens-Hocking-Vinton 317 Board (also known as Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board) annual meeting. Board member Erin Gibson nominated Yessika, and shared the following about her decision,

Yessika is very active in the community and is an excellent example of someone who puts children and the community first. She serves as a reminder that for us to raise healthy, strong children we, as a whole, need to work together to provide them with good examples and a safe community.
I am so very lucky to call Yessika a friend, and yes, she is a probation officer, but to the families she touches every day, she is a cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on, a shining light of guidance and a constant source of encouragement. We would like to thank you for all that you do Yessika, and please, keep up the good work!

Yessika has been an employee for the Hocking County Juvenile Court for almost six years, serving as a Juvenile Justice Fellow and Specialized Docket Probation Officer for most of that time. When I asked her what the award meant to her, she explained,

My hope was renewed. It means I have to work harder to move bigger mountains and I think receiving it as a probation officer says a lot in respect to how far we have come from the hammer to the strength-based aspect of this field where kids can really find hope in themselves and the system.

I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Yessika, on behalf of the National Program Office and the Reclaiming Futures network, for receiving this prestigious award. She truly deserves it!
If you know of any local Reclaiming Futures leaders receiving accolades for their work, please email me because it’s important to share the success stories and news with our national learning collaborative and the field. We love to show off your great work!

Growing Evidence for Link Between Experience in Detention and Recidivism in Teens

Young people in the juvenile justice system who have an overall positive experience are 49 percent less likely to continue committing crimes, according to arrest and/or return-to-placement reports.
Two recent research briefs, “What Youths Say Matters” [PDF] and “Reducing Isolation and Room Confinement,” [PDF] by the Performance Based Standards Learning Institute (PbSLi) suggest that there is a direct, and strong, link between the quality of a teen’s time in detention and their likelihood to commit new offenses:
The latest PbSLi brief, “What Youths Say Matters,” focuses on the recent study, Pathways to Desistance, which is regarded as the most comprehensive longitudinal study of youths in the juvenile justice system.
The Pathways researchers interviewed around 1,400 youths in Philadelphia and Phoenix over a seven-year period observing what makes youths continue—or stop—committing crimes.
This study demonstrated that teens’ experiences in custody impact their future choices. The two main conclusions of the report include the following:

  1. What youths say matters; youths tell us ways we can help prevent them from continuing to commit crimes; and
  2. Asking young people is a valid, cost-effective way to find out what we need to know to prevent future crime.

Economics Alone Supports Juvenile Justice Reform; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • [OP-ED] Economics Alone Supports Juvenile Justice Reform (
    "Locking up a juvenile is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, while treating one at a community-based center is estimated by the Juvenile Justice Project to cost about $5,000."
  • Talking Juvenile Justice: A Webinar with Photographer Richard Ross (
    On Monday, November 18th JJIE hosted a webinar with Richard Ross -- a photographer, researcher and professor of art based in Santa Barbara, California. Ross has been the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Fulbright, and the Center for Cultural Innovation.
  • Racial Disparities in Juvenile Justice System Addressed (
    To illustrate the stark racial disparities in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system, think about this: While non-white kids make up 57 percent of the patients at Riverview Hospital, a youth psychiatric facility, non-white kids at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a secure facility for delinquents, make up 86 percent of the kids serving there. It’s a reality that child advocates, city officials and roughly 100 residents gathered to discuss Wednesday.
  • [OP-ED] Spotlight on Solano: Youth Thrive Through County Innovation (
    Today, juvenile justice reform and innovation is underway in California and nationwide. The Missouri and Washington models of juvenile justice programming are renowned, as they should be. They present a much-needed road map for other jurisdictions strategizing for systemic change. However, California may not need to look so far away to find the answers. With 58 counties, California is a hotbed of innovation, and Solano County is forging the way.

Supporting Systems Change in Reclaiming Futures Communities

Reclaiming Futures has helped communities break the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime for more than 10 years. But how exactly does Reclaiming Futures accomplish systems change? We sat down with National Executive Director Susan Richardson to discuss the model and benefits of becoming a Reclaiming Futures site.
Lori Howell (LH): What makes Reclaiming Futures successful in a variety of communities across the country?  
Susan J. Richardson (SJR): Reclaiming Futures offers powerful tools and resources to communities helping teens overcome drugs, alcohol and crime. We work to improve drug, alcohol and mental health treatment and connect teens to positive activities and caring adults.
LH: That sounds like quite a feat! How do you accomplish this? 
SJR: Reclaiming Futures unites juvenile courts, probation, adolescent substance abuse treatment, teen mental health treatment and the community to reclaim youth.

LH: Please tell us about the Reclaiming Futures model.
SJR:  The proven six-step Reclaiming Futures model unites juvenile courts, probation, adolescent substance abuse treatment, and the community to reclaim youth. Together this leadership team works for change to improve drug, alcohol and mental health treatment for teens and connect them to positive activities and caring adults.
LH: Please tell me more about the leadership team and how it functions.
SJR: The Reclaiming Futures Change Teams are organized into five groups: Judicial, Juvenile Justice, Substance Abuse Treatment, Community, and Project Director Fellowships. This change team also represents their local community at national Reclaiming Futures meetings. In addition to regular conference calls, each Fellowship has an annual meeting with their colleagues. Both the calls and meetings provide opportunities for Fellows to discuss implementation issues, professional topics, and seek the advice and support of colleagues as they work to implement the Reclaiming Futures model at the local level.

New JJIE Webinar: Talking Juvenile Justice with Photographer Richard Ross

JJIE recently hosted a webinar with Richard Ross, a photographer, researcher and professor of art based in Santa Barbara, California. Richard's most recent project, Juvenile In Justice, aims to expose conditions within the juvenile justice system. Via JJIE,

[Juvenile In Justice] turns a lens on the placement and treatment of American juveniles housed by law in facilities that treat, confine, punish, assist and, occasionally, harm them. Seven years in the making, the project includes more than 1,000 kids in juvenile detention and commitment facilities in 31 states. The project is a quest to make the lives of these forgotten kids visual and tangible.

Watch the webinar in full below: 

[Video] What is Juvenile Indigent Defense? News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • [Video] What is Juvenile Indigent Defense? (
    On November 11th, JJIE rolled out the next section of our juvenile justice resource hub on juvenile indigent defense. To kick start the launch, JJIE led a compelling and informative live group video chat with key players in the Juvenile Indigent Defense reform movement—exploring youth’s rights and access to quality council and defense when they find themselves in court.
  • Proposed Reforms to Juvenile Representation Stir Concerns in Colorado (The Denver Post)
    Criminal justice experts are questioning whether proposed reforms requiring youth offenders to have attorneys are really necessary — or if the system can even afford it. Legislation on juvenile representation — including one provision requiring juveniles to have legal counsel at detention hearings — will be proposed in January when state lawmakers convene.
  • Criminal Case Puts Focus on Bullying Laws (
    Once considered a teenage rite of passage, bullying is now the subject of hundreds of state laws and a rallying cry for pundits, parents and celebrities.
  • Inside Heads and Cells of Juvenile Offenders: New Philly Art Exhibit Showcases and Helps Youth (
    What was originally conceived as a locally-staged art exhibition highlighting the need for reforms to the nation's juvenile justice system has snowballed into something much more. At nonprofit arts organization and studio space InLiquid, housed inside Kensington's Crane Arts building, hundreds of youths will this month receive the opportunity to have their juvenile records expunged, while hundreds more will be provided with resources about diversionary programming that could potentially save them from having to face the issue, in the first place.

"Spotlight On Youth" Radio Segment Gives Unique Perspective on Fair Sentencing in the Criminal Justice System

There are 2,500 young people currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in the United States—the only country in the world that has enforced the policy of life behind bars for those under 18. In recent years, the Supreme Court determined the policy of no parole to be unconstitutional for minors—calling it a cruel and unusual punishment.
The radio show, Spotlight on Youth, recently hosted a segment, “What is Fair? Examining Sentencing for Youth,” that discussed this policy among four unique guests:

While each guest had a different background, they all agreed on one main idea:
Young people are fundamentally different than adults, and the justice system should take this into account when sentencing those under 18.

What Role Does Race Play in Juvenile Justice? News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Juvenile Justice Reform Pays, in Dollars and Sense (Ledger-Enquirer)
    One eye-popping number: The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice says the state can save more than $90,000 for every child -- every child -- that doesn't have to be placed in a juvenile detention center. So said political, law enforcement and judicial officials in a town-hall panel discussion at the Augusta Library Headquarters.
  • New Coalition to Focus on Juvenile Justice in Jacksonville (
    More than two dozen Northeast Florida elected officials, churches, advocacy groups and policy organizations are joining forces to put a stop to the criminalization of first-time juvenile offenders accused of committing misdemeanors.
  • Georgia Closing Juvenile Prison With Nation’s Highest Rate of Sexual Victimization (
    A Georgia youth prison, recently found by a federal study to have the highest rate in the nation of sexual victimization of incarcerated youth, will close at the end of the year, the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) announced Monday.
  • What Role Does Race Play in Juvenile Justice? Youth Forum Tackles Subject (
    The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew and young people will explore solutions to racial disparity to promote equality for Connecticut young people in the system.

Upward Trend Lines in Juvenile Justice Reform

Isn’t it fun when policy is trending our way? Indeed, after reading State Trends Legislative Victories from 2011-2013 Removing Youth From the Adult Criminal Justice System released by the Campaign for Youth Justice I just want to celebrate.
State Trends identifies twenty-three states that enacted forty pieces of legislation to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal courts and end the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons. They identify four important trends:

  • Trend 1: Eleven states (Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Hawaii, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oregon and Ohio) have passed laws limiting states’ authority to house youth in adult jails and prisons.
  • Trend 2: Four states (Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, and Massachusetts) have expanded their juvenile court jurisdiction so that older youth who previously would be automatically tried as adults are not prosecuted in adult criminal court.
  • Trend 3: Twelve states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Ohio, Maryland and Nevada) have changed their transfer laws making it more likely that youth will stay in the juvenile justice system.
  • Trend 4: Eight states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, Ohio, and Washington) have changed their mandatory minimum sentencing laws to take into account the developmental differences between youth and adults, allow for post-sentence review for youth facing juvenile life without parole or other sentencing reform for youth sentenced as adults.

OP-ED: Girls in the System Need More of Our Support; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • In ‘Vernon’s World,’ a Young Photographer Documents the Life of a Homeless Teenager (
    Unaccustomed to the cold, hard floor in his spot next to the door of the public bathrooms in Trenton, Missouri, Sam Wilson, 22, slept badly. In a stall next to him, Vernon Foster, 18, didn’t have the same trouble. By the time Foster woke, Wilson had been in a state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness for hours, apologizing to the morning walkers as they filtered through the bathroom, surprised to see two young boys asleep on the floor.
  • Mandatory Sentencing 17 year-olds in Adult Court - Is There a Better Alternative for Wisconsin's Youth and Taxpayers? (MacIver Institute)
    In the United States, there is a wide consensus that children differ from adults. The very fact that each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. have institutions designed to render judgment on cases and administer justice outside of the adult criminal court speaks to this critical distinction.
  • OP-ED: Girls in the System Need More of Our Support (
    "I just returned from the Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders Conference in Portland, Maine, where Piper Kerman, author of the memoir 'Orange Is the New Black,' -- the inspiration for the wildly successful Netflix series of the same name -- gave the keynote address to the 400 or so attendees all with some connection to the offender population."
  • Florida's Juvenile Justice Department Seeking Reform Suggestions (
    Gulf County residents sat quietly as Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters talked about a major change, focusing more on prevention programs. "These problems that allow people to become violent and so disregard authority and commit crimes and know that they're committing crimes, these things don't happen in a day," said Secretary Wansley Walters of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Clinic at Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex Teaches More than Just Basketball

Washburn University basketball coach Bob Chipman and five members of the Ichabod team gave some pointers on the game of basketball, and a few on the game of life, to residents of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex (KJCC) last week.
With their first game of the season a little over two weeks away, Chipman and a few of his players took time out to teach a group of juvenile offenders about basketball, as well as to encourage them to make healthy life choices.
The visitors coached the residents on techniques of the game and ran through a series of drills that helped bond the two groups of young men, many of whom are very close in age. The day ended with one of the young offenders tossing alley-oop passes to red-shirt freshman Evan Robinson.
“It’s a great feeling to get this opportunity to serve the community, and I guarantee that I will learn a lot more from them than I will teach them,” said Robinson. “It’s good to see the smiles on their faces and know that we’re able to make a positive impact in some way.”
Chipman first connected with KJCC through one of his former players, Steve Bonner, who now serves as a corrections counselor at the facility.
“We all make mistakes, in life, and in basketball,” Chipman told the juvenile offenders. “But you learn from your mistakes and you go on. Just like in basketball, it’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts. I want every one of you to finish great.”

Horse Therapy as Intervention Strategy for Young People

Winston Churchill once said, "There’s just something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." Horse therapy has indeed been proven effective in several different cases regarding mental health, addiction, physical therapy, and human development. Hardin County, Ohio is putting this idea to the test.
Hardin County Reclaiming Futures has partnered with Serenity Stables Therapeutic Center Inc. to provide horse therapy to youth in the juvenile system through the Horse and Youth program (H.A.Y.).
The H.A.Y. program will provide intervention strategies for the adjudicated youth who need a way to build self-confidence, leadership skills, and group interaction capabilities. The young people will have 12 weekly sessions to create a bond with their horse, as well as the people, of Serenity Stables.
“The horses do not care who you are, what trouble you have been in, or what problems you may have. Each youth will be able to establish a bond with an animal that is totally non-judgmental,” Judge Christopher, Hardin County Juvenile Court, explains.
This type of bond will serve to build confidence in the young people of Hardin County and help them develop a new, healthier mindset. Judge Christopher also believes the people of Serenity Stable, who have ample experience working with challenged youth, will serve to be positive role models for the participants.