- You've probably heard this already, but the new drug czar backed away from the "war on drugs" analogy, signalling a shift in U.S. policy toward more treatment and less emphasis on interdiction and incarceration. What you might not have heard, however, is that the administration's current budget still favors interdiction over prevention and treatment, according to an editorial in The Huffington Post.
Back in March, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) offered $3.6 million for three new Reclaiming Futures sites. Today, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) approved an additional $2.3 million to support those three new Reclaiming Futures sites and provide technical assistance training to the existing 23 sites around the country.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who's met her, but Laura Nissen (in photo at left), who directs the Reclaiming Futures national initiative, has been named 2009 Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Oregon Chapter. The award recognizes social workers who have made outstanding contributions to the profession and services provided to Oregon’s individuals, families and communities.
There's so much going on, I had to post another news roundup this week:
- A proposal in the North Carolina legislature would raise the age at which juveniles can be prosecuted from 16 to 18 -- a welcome sign. Numerous editorials have appeared in state papers in recent weeks -- like the one published by Bart Lubow of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative -- in favor of such a change.
- Biggest news of the week: according to The New York Times, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the question of whether it's appropriate to sentence juveniles to life without parole, given its 2005 decision that execution for crimes committed as a juvenile is inappropriate given what we now know about their developing brains.
Today is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It's intended to raise "awareness of effective programs for children's mental health needs; demonstrate how children's mental health initiatives promote positive youth development, recovery, and resilience; and show how children with mental health needs thrive in their communities."
This year's theme -- "Thriving in the Community" -- is appropriate for anyone working with kids in the justice system, since it emphasizes "how high school youth who receive the services they need are more likely to have positive outcomes, such as better grades, and less likely to have negative outcomes, such as involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice systems."
Check out the SAMHSA site for more info - there's a short report on how systems of care help teens stay in school and are better-behaved, and there's also a Family Guide to Systems of Care for Children With Mental Health Needs.
- The Bureau of Justice Assistance is looking to fund nonprofits to provide mentors for individuals 18 or older leaving incarceration -- a great opportunity to help "transition age" youth 18-24 ...
- A recent study showed that online alcohol and drug treatment is effective; I'd like to see it replicated for teens, as online approaches hold tremendous possibilities for engaging and reaching youth who have no transportation to get to care.
The Reclaiming Futures initiative was honored to host Marian Wright Edelman (seen on the right in the photo at right, with Laura Nissen, National Director of Reclaiming Futures). Mrs. Edelman is founder and president of the Childrens' Defense Fund (CDF) and is a renowned advocate for America's disadvantaged children.
A couple of highlights from her inspiring speech (quotes may not be word-for-word):
- Mississippi Security Police, the private company that runs the juvenile detention center for the Missisippi county sued earlier this week by the Southern Poverty Law Center, held a press conference yesterday vigorously denying all allegations. The lawsuit charges that youth offenders were physically and emotionally abused and kept in verminous, unsanitary living conditions without access to mental health care. Here's video of the press tour of the juvenile detention facility and details of the company's responses to the suit. (It should be noted that the county is the defendant in the lawsuit; the private company is not named.)
- The St. Petersburg Times has thorough coverage of decades-old horrors and abuses at the Florida School for Boys that came to light late last year, when former students at the reform school, now in their 60s, found each other on the internet and went public with their accusations. UPDATE: In its weekly roundup, Youth Today reported that an investigation is "going nowhere," according to the former Florida state employee who pushed for an investigation into the scandal and the school's 32 unmarked graves.
Back in February, I mentioned the ACLU's description of a juvenile detention center in Wyoming as "a lawsuit waiting to happen," and a class-action lawsuit against the detention center in New Orleans, where youth are often locked in their cells for 20+ hours a day, and rats and mold are present.
Now, Harrison County, Mississippi, has been sued because of conditions in its privately-run juvenile detention center. Allegations include staff abusing youth emotionally and physically, and squalid, overcrowded living conditions, including insect infestations, "widespread" scabies and staph infections, 23-hour-a-day lockdowns, and no access to mental health care.
We'll see what happens -- a representative of the firm that runs the Harrison County detention center denied there were major issues -- but the overall trend is not encouraging. Why do we think we can -- or should -- treat children this way?
- In an editorial last week, The New York Times supported the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).
- The Times also pointed out the critical necessity of drug treatment for prisoners in the interests of public health and cutting crime. (In related news, the number of black offenders in U.S. state prisons for drug charges dropped 21.6% between 1999-2005, whereas the number of white drug offenders shot up 42.6%. Even so, blacks are still drastically overrepresented in state prisons. Meanwhile, the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses -- blacks, whites and Latinos -- increased over the same time period.)
I’m excited because we’ve hired Mark Fulop, M.A., M.P.H. (pictured at left), to serve as the Partnership and Development Director for Reclaiming Futures. As you’ll see from the interview below, Mark’s got an interesting background and an intriguing take on our mission. (And be sure you check out his insightful way of looking at sustainability.) –Benjamin
BC: What made you want to join the Reclaiming Futures team?
Mark: It’s a project that focuses on the strengths of young people and concurrently does not let the community off the hook for their responsibility for their kids. It says, “Your work isn’t done until every young person entering the juvenile justice system with a substance use issue is met with opportunity and not obstacles.”
And that's inspiring because it means Reclaiming Futures takes up the human rights challenge of youth--the way we as a nation
disempower youth by labeling them as “at-risk” or “troubled." That disempowerment can be seen in dropout rates, substance abuse rates and incarceration rates. When I realized Reclaiming Futures' deeper vision and ethos was to tackle this issue, I didn’t hesitate to join the team.
- From a great article in the Winter 2009 issue of the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice, we found out about a new tool to combat disproportionate minority contact in the justice system: racial impact statements. Iowa now requires that these statements be drawn up whenever new legislation is proposed that affects sentencing, probation, or parole.
- In this editorial, The New York Times says it's wrong to jail parents too poor to pay for detaining their children. What do you think?
Okay, my headline's an exaggeration. But here's a few news items that make me wonder how we got to a place where teen-aged behavior is dealt with so punitively:
- New Jersey's Office of the Child Advocate just released a great report on the state's successful detention reform efforts. For a truly compelling graph showing how juvenile arrests in New Jersey kept dropping even as use of detention was reduced, see the new (and interesting in its own right) Policy for Results website, an initiative of the Center for the Study of Social Policy that focuses on "better results for kids and families through research-informed policy."
In what's probably the largest-scale longitudinal study of its kind to date, researchers have assessed how well detained teens were functioning up to three years later.
The results, in press at the Journal of Adolescent Health, were based on assessments of "1,653 youth arrested and detained between 1995 and 1998 at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC) in Chicago, Illinois." Researchers used the Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale (CAFAS).
What did they learn?
- Nice article in The New York Times on the Missouri Model (getting kids out of detention and lock-up and into small group homes that focus on treatment and actual behavior change). Santa Cruz, California (and former Reclaiming Futures Justice Fellow, Scott MacDonald) are mentioned.
- TIME magazine weighed in on the state of the juvenile justice system, noting the need for more accountability to prevent abuses of various kinds. Also noted that most teens in the system who need mental health and addiction treatment don't get it.
- A new Iowa State University study shows that $1 invested in prevention saves $10, according to JoinTogether.
- JoinTogether also reports on a study from the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment that treatment providers can cut up to 6 hours of paperwork per client, without compromising quality of care. Interestingly enough, the researchers teamed up with the director of the Delaware agency overseeing alcohol and drug treatment to survey and work with all substance abuse treatment programs statewide on reducing their paperwork burden. The six-month effort yielded significant positive results - not least an improved relationship between providers and the state.