Blog: Public Policy

What’s in a Number? Age Considerations in Justice Decisions

Research shows that adolescents have a high propensity for engaging in risk taking activities given the significant changes in neurology, biology, and other developmental issues (e.g., social; cultural; familial) they experience. Specifically related to decision-making, science shows the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain is underdeveloped until a young person is well into their 20’s.  With these findings in mind, how should this influence the way we think about key juvenile justice policies and practices like the age of juvenile jurisdiction?

Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health

There are so many noteworthy aspects to the “first ever” Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. For example, it is grounded in the best evidence available to date and it examines issues of neurobiology, prevention, treatment, recovery, and health care systems. It also has educational and promotional materials such as fact sheets and social media ideas and resources. If you have not reviewed it – now is the time. It’s my understanding that additional fact sheets are forthcoming including one on criminal/juvenile justice populations. As such, keep visiting the website for updates and let’s keep talking about this report and its importance to individuals, families, and communities impacted by substance misuse and/or disorders.

H.R.6 – 21st Century Cures Act

Acknowledged as the final signed legislation for President Obama’s Administration, the 21st Ce​ntury Cures Act is important for behavioral health and juvenile justice. The key components of this Act include provisions for:

“Read All About It” - Research Findings Published!

Reasons why I am proud to write this blog post...

Reason 1: My former colleagues (and friends) at The University of Arizona, Southwest Institute for Research on Women (UA SIROW) (UA SIROW) have been leading the efforts on the national evaluation of Juvenile Drug Courts and Juvenile Drug Courts blended with Reclaiming Futures (JDC/RF).  UA SIROW collaborated with Chestnut Health Systems and Carnevale Associates, LLC to implement a comprehensive evaluation that included data from Juvenile Drug Courts, Juvenile Drugs Courts blended with Reclaiming Futures, and non-justice related intensive adolescent outpatient programs. The purpose was to examine processes, outcomes, and costs.

Substance Use Disorder Treatment Alert!

Deadline Approaching: Review and comment by April 11, 2016

Have you seen the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) proposed changes to 42 CFR Part 2, Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records? If not, we recommend taking a look and commenting as an individual, agency/organizational, or community collaboration. Feel free to share praises and/or critiques about the proposed changes with SAMHSA.

Here are some key highlights:

  • Rewind time to more than four decades ago - 42 CFR Part 2 was conceptualized and approved to provide iPAGE2-COURTROOMndividuals seeking substance use disorder treatment with protections for privacy and confidentiality. It was acknowledged that stigma and fear of potential repercussions (familial, employment; criminal) prevented people from seeking treatment.
  • The last “substantive” update to 42 CFR Part 2 was in 1987 (approaching three decades ago).
  • There have been substantial changes in the way substance use disorder treatment is provided including a greater number of integrated health care centers (primary and behavioral health) and greater use of electronic health records. As such, modernizing 42 CFR Part 2 is necessary.
  • The proposed regulations will continue to apply to federally-assisted “programs“ which “holds itself out as providing, and provides substance use disorder diagnosis, treatment, or referral for treatment.” General medical facilities have always been included as a “program”, but the proposed change adds “general medical practices” to the definition.
  • It proposes if agencies and organizations that have “general designation” on consent form(s) they must provide patients a list of where their information has been shared.
  • Proposes agencies and organizations must have policies and procedures in place to sanitize paper and electronic records.

OJJDP Policy Guidance: Girls and the Juvenile Justice System

Girls are increasingly over-represented in the juvenile justice system; particularly girls living in poverty and young women of color, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in their recently released policy guidance: "Girls and the Juvenile Justice System." The significant increase of justice-involved girls over the past two decades was also demonstrated in September by Francine T. Sherman and Annie Balck in their "Gender Injustice" report; girls now account for almost 30 percent of youth arrests. OJJDP's new policy guidance calls for the identification and recognition of known risk factors - which lead girls to the justice system - and the implementation of developmentally informed approaches in order to reduce and divert the involvement of girls in the system. OJJDP's policy guidance aligns with the White House Council on Women and Girls' intention to advance equity for women and girls of color.

Identifying Risk Factors  

OJJDP's policy guidance identifies a number of risk factors which lead to involvement of girls in the juvenile justice system, also referred to as the sexual abuse/trauma-to-prison pipeline

‘Somebody Asked:’ A Simple Strategy to Address Substance Use; News Roundup

Every week Reclaiming Futures rounds up the latest news on juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance use treatment, and teen mental health. 

New ‘Ban the Box’ Bill Would Improve Access to Federal Jobs for Youth With Records; News Roundup

Every week Reclaiming Futures rounds up the latest news on juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance use treatment, and teen mental health. 

New ‘Ban the Box’ Bill Would Improve Access to Federal Jobs for Youth With Records (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)
The new Fair Chance To Compete for Jobs Act would help youth with criminal histories gain employment by prohibiting employers from asking about criminal history until a conditional offer of employment is received. The hope is that this will help qualified candidates avoid the stigma of past conviction when seeking out employment. As many as 70 million people with criminal histories may face barriers to employment.

Advocates, Analysts See Pivotal Moment in Push for Reforms

President Obama’s sweeping speech on criminal justice reform last month included a familiar rfrefrain for juvenile justice reformers: “Kids are different.”

“Don't just tag them as future criminals. Reach out to them as future citizens,” he told the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia.

The president’s speech was one marker in a recent string of political pronouncements, legislative rumblings and on-the-ground policy developments that have reformers hoping this is a moment for criminal justice reform — one that will include juvenile justice.

Apply Now for the 2015 Multi-System Integration Certificate Program

Now through August 21, 2015, The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University‘s McCourt School of Public Policy is accepting applications for its 2015 Multi-System Integration Certificate Program.

The program is designed to support local jurisdictions’ efforts to improve outcomes for youth who have been involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems (also known as “crossover youth”) by implementing integrated, multi-disciplinary solutions.

Possible Implications for Public Schools: Addressing Complex Trauma

The Washington Post,  LA Times and Aces Too High posted stories regarding the lawsuit filed against the Compton School district for allegedly not responding to students’ learning and mental health needs specifically related to complex trauma. The statutory framework for this lawsuit is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and American Disabilities Act. The Washington Post article provides the actual lawsuit and all three articles offer synopses of the trauma experienced by youth named in the lawsuit.  The lawsuit describes and alleges that these young people experienced numerous traumas both on and off school propfile0001681273132erty such as homelessness, physical and sexual abuse, violence, witnessing shootings, unsafe school conditions, and familial behavioral health issues.  Three Compton School district teachers are named for the prosecution alleging that their requests to provide youth with the appropriate behavioral health services were ignored by the district.  For those of us that work in the juvenile justice or behavioral health fields these stories seem all too common. Decades of research and practice have shown that trauma has profound negative effects on an individual’s overall health (e.g., neurological, biological, psychological, social).  One of the more well-known studies, which is being used to support this lawsuit, is the Adverse Childhood Experiences ( ACEs) study. The major findings from the ACEs study show trauma can impair an individual’s social, emotional, and cognitive abilities and functioning.

But, what is complex trauma?

NASADAD Releases a State Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Practice Guide

The National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, Inc. (NASADAD) “…purpose is to foster and support the development of effective alcohol and other drug abuse prevention and treatment programs throughout every State.” NASADAD has recently achieved this purpose by the development of the State Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Practice Guide (see link below).

Michael P. Botticelli is Appointed Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

Last week, the Senate voted unanimously to appoint Michael P. Botticelli as Director of The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).Michael_Botticelli

This is a significant step toward advancing sustainable systems change, as Boticelli has a focus on substance use treatment. His two decades of experience working in this field, including as Director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, equips him with the skills to implement evidence-based programs and span boundaries among partnerships with law enforcement agencies, health and human service agencies and stakeholder groups. Boticelli also has experience establishing a treatment and prevention systems for adolescents.

Read Boticelli’s introductory remarks as Director on the ONDCP blog and below, and join me in welcoming him to office:

Many great movements to change public perception and policy around a public health issue have been fueled by people with a disease speaking out publicly.  What is seen as someone else's problem—someone else’s disease – takes on a new dimension when people speak up about it.  

Such was the case when Betty Ford revealed her breast cancer diagnosis and her substance use disorder. Such was the case when Magic Johnson's revealed that he was HIV positive, spurring action to stem the AIDS epidemic.

Yet, despite the fact that nearly every family and community in America is affected by a substance use disorder, those fighting to overcome this disease are too often hidden in the shadows of shame and denial.  It is whispered about. It is met with derision and scorn.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, only 1 in 9 people with a diagnosable substance use disorder gets treatment.  Compare this to the treatment rate for diabetes, for which 72% of people with the disease receive care.

When treatment is provided for substance use disorders, it too often comes at the most acute stages of the disease when effective treatment is far more challenging and costly than in the early stages. Because substance use disorders have historically gone unidentified for far too long, and timely access to treatment has been far too difficult to come by, a person is expected to hit “rock bottom” before seeking help for a substance use disorder.

Standard medical care does not allow a diabetic to enter kidney failure before offering insulin.  Yet untreated substance use disorders routinely proceed unchecked until they have reached such levels of emergency.  In addition to the unnecessary suffering for patients and their families, our current approach costs the United States hundreds of billions a year in increased health care costs, crime and lost productivity-- over $223 billion related to alcohol and $193 billion related to illicit drugs.

Decades of scientific research have proven that substance use disorders are a health issue:  chronic medical conditions with genetic, biological and environmental risk factors.  Effective substance use disorders requires a comprehensive, public health approach involving evidence-based prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery support services.  The National Drug Control Strategy, the Obama Administration’s template for drug policy, outlines more than 100 action items across federal government to prevent drug use and its consequences.

Earlier this month, President Obama in his 2016 Budget requested historic levels of funding --including $133 million in new funds-- to address the opioid misuse epidemic in the U.S. Using a public health framework as its foundation, our strategy also acknowledges the vital role that federal state and local law enforcement play in reducing the availability of drugs—another risk factor for drug use.  It underscores the vital importance of primary prevention in stopping drug use before it ever begins by funding prevention efforts across the country. It sets forth an agenda aimed at stripping away the systemic challenges that have accumulated like plaque over the decades: over-criminalization, lack of integration with mainstream medical care, insurance coverage and the legal barriers that make it difficult for people once involved with the criminal justice system to rebuild their lives.

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act will dramatically increase coverage for treatment and ensures that services are comparable to other chronic conditions for more than 60 million Americans. This is the biggest expansion of substance use disorder treatment in a generation, and it will transform millions of lives.

All of these advancements, however, are not enough unless we fundamentally change the way we think about people with addiction.  There are millions of people in recovery in the United States leading meaningful, productive lives full of joy and love and laughter – and I am one of them.

Tonight, the United States Senate voted to confirm my nomination as Director of National Drug Control Policy. This is an honor I never dreamed of 26 years ago, when my substance use disorder had become so acute that I was handcuffed to a hospital bed. I accept this challenge with the humility and tenacity of someone in long term recovery.

I am open about my recovery not to be self-congratulatory, I am open about my recovery to change public policy. I have dedicated my life to treating drug use as a public health issue, and that’s how I approach this new role, as well.  I hope that many more of the millions of Americans in recovery like me will also choose to “come out” and to fight to be treated like anyone else with a chronic disease. By putting faces and voices to the disease of addiction and the promise of recovery, we can lift the curtain of conventional wisdom that continues to keep too many of us hidden and without access to lifesaving treatment.

It is time to make a simple, yet courageous decision to be counted, to be seen and to be heard.

Share your story with us today.

D.C.'s juvenile justice system could be restructured and more -- news roundup

  • On TV: "Young Kids, Hard Time"
    On Sunday, November 20 at 10 pm EST, MSNBC will premiere a one-hour documentary that throws back the veil on the reality of young kids serving long sentences in adult prisons. (Hat tip to the Campaign for Youth Justice.)
  • Reform: D.C.'s juvenile justice system could be restructured
    Council member Jim Graham, charged with overseeing the city's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, is considering a radical change to the agency via, "job development programs, we would have literacy, we would be dealing with this marijuana addiction, having mental health because a lot of these kids are abused. It would be different."
  • Civil citations are key to Florida's juvenile justice reform
    On July 1, 2011, Florida law began requiring counties to establish a local civil citation process for youth that requires them to admit to the offense, perform community service and possibly participate in intervention services. The non-recidivism rate is 93% in one FL county that has been using this program for two years.
  • New community care option for girls in Baltimore
    Girls going through the juvenile justice system now have an alternative to detention while waiting to be adjudicated - an alternative that’s been available to boys for years. Some can now attend a youth monitoring program that allows them to live at home and attend a reporting center.

Survey of Police Chiefs Shows Need for Police Training to Work with Youth

juvenile-justice-system_cops-lecturing-handcuffed-youth-on-streets-ChicagoAt a  training of Massachusetts MBTA Training Academy recruits in July, a police officer said to the group, “What I am telling you today we did not get when we were in the academy. Now you’ve got a leg up in dealing with kids by knowing this stuff.” The officer had been trained in a train-the-trainer capacity building effort by Strategies for Youth. “Knowing this stuff about kids makes working with them easier and less stressful and believe me, they can be stressful,” he told the recruits.
The newly released findings of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) survey on juvenile justice and youth training needs suggest this officer is both right and unusual. Training in best practices for working with youth is helpful, but remains the exception to the rule across the country.
The IACP’s survey, the “2011 Juvenile Justice Training Needs Assessment,” found that police chiefs want training but lack funding and agency resources to provide it to their officers.  They wanted their officers to have the skills to work with the increasing and challenging demands posed by youth. The top 5 areas in which chiefs want their officers trained are:

  1. substance abuse;
  2. physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse;
  3. dealing with chronic juvenile offenders;
  4. bullying/cyber-bullying; and
  5. gangs. Other topics included internet offending, runaways, and school safety. 

The survey is notable for the unusually large size of the sample: over 672 law enforcement officers in 404 law enforcement agencies in 49 states and the District of Columbia. The agencies represented the gamut of departments, from small and rural, to suburban, to large and urban; 77% were police departments.  
Demands on  Law Enforcement:
While officers have always dealt with children and youth, arguably today they are asked to deal with them more than ever. Cuts in youth serving programs, the increased placement of officers in schools, and the common reaction of calling the police for any youth-related issue, combine to make police the first responders to incidents involving youth. 

Less Scared Straight, More 'Talk Therapy'

juvenile-justice-system_teen-staring-through-chainlink-fenceThe other day I watched the A&E program Beyond Scared Straight for the first time. I'm familiar with the original 1979 Academy Award winning documentary, Scared Straight!, that inspired many states across the country to institute similar programs in an attempt to deter juveniles already involved with the criminal justice on some level from a future life of imprisonment. These kids are taken on a tour of a jail and introduced to prisoners who recount horror stories of their time behind bars. The hope is that once given a taste of the grim reality of prison life, these 13-19 year old kids will want to go "straight" and avoid incarceration. Executive produced by the director of the original, Arnold Shapiro, this new "reality" series is the highest rated original program in A&E's history.
The show has been met with harsh criticism. In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, director of Justice Programs at Governor's Office for Children and Families in Georgia, Joe Vignati wrote: "The scared straight approach is an inappropriate and unacceptable means for disciplining children. This approach has been shown to cause short -and long-term harm and actually INCREASES the likelihood of re-offending among some participants."
A January op-ed for the Baltimore Sun titled "Scary -- and ineffective," written by Laurie O. Robinson and Jeff Slowikowski, two Justice Department officials, sites research that says those who participated in a scared straight type program were 28 percent more likely to offend than youths who had not participated. The Campaign for Youth Justice is calling for the show to be pulled from A&E.
In the episode I saw, there was a young man named Brandon who lived in Detroit. Brandon sported a tattoo on his right forearm of a skull and the word "Heartless" underneath and said he lived by the creed "MHD," which stands for "Money, Hoes, Drugs." Money brings women, and drugs bring money, Brandon explained. The worst he had ever done, he admitted, was shoot someone.

Recognizing All Victims of Crime

juvenile-justice-reform_young-black-teenOver the last few decades, the victims' rights movement has been effective in highlighting the needs and concerns of victims of crime. This movement –- born out of the women’s right era of the early 1970s -– continues to pick up steam as states amend laws and policies to give victims more defined rights and services. However, as the victims' right movement has evolved, so must its recognition of and treatment of victims.
When you hear the word “victim,” seldom do you associate that with young African American men. Society, through sensationalist media reporting, scapegoating and rhetoric-laden politicking, has done a thorough job of painting what a “perpetrator” and a “victim” look like. One of those paintings uses more color than the other.
The irony of such mischaracterization is that young black males are victimized at a higher rate than any other demographic. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008, blacks are victimized at a personal crime rate of 26.6 percent in comparison to whites, who are victimized at a personal crime rate of 18.6 percent –- yet when victims are talked about, this population doesn’t enter the discussion.

Going into my senior year in high school, I worked an entire summer from sun-up to sundown to save enough money to help my mother buy me a car. When I finally got that car, it was broken into not long afterward. I felt angry, stranded, violated, sad and a whole host of other emotions, but for whatever reason, I never felt like a victim.
Why not? I had obviously just been victimized.

Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice: Which Is Most Likely to Last?

juvenile-justice-reform_bringing-youth-home-coverjuvneile-justice-reform_resolution-reinvestment-realignment_coverA recent report from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), titled, "Bringing Youth Home: A National Movement to Increase Public Safety, Rehabilitate Youth and Save Money," documented the extraordinary number of states and jurisdictions (at least 24) that are closing or downsizing their youth correctional facilities, due to budget cuts, legislation, lawsuits, and pressure from reformers. (Download the report for tips on ways to downsize wisely.)
This is a good thing, because it means taxpayers can save money or avoid the high cost of incarceration, and reallocate those monies to community-based programs that are more effective at helping young people turn their lives around.
Right on the heels of the NJJN report comes a new report from Jeffrey A. Butts and Douglas N. Evans from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Research and Evaluation Center in New York, titled, Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice. In it, they ask:

  • Do these reforms represent a permanent shift in policy and practice, or are they merely a temporary reaction to tight budgets and low rates of violent crime?
  • Will policymakers maintain the reforms if and when crime rises and budgets rebound?

Addressing the Collateral Consequences of Convictions for Young Offenders

juvenile-justice-reform_collateral-consequences-articleTwo million juveniles are arrested each year, and the collateral consequences they could face begin at this first point of contact with the system, regardless of whether charges are subsequently applied and the individual is convicted. People involved in the justice system encounter substantial challenges in gaining employment, civic participation, finding housing, applying to college, and accessing medical and mental health care. Placement on public registries such as sex offender registries are an increasingly common policy tools,, despite lack of evidence of effectiveness and mounting evidence of harm.  
A popular area of focus among advocates, practitioners, law enforcement and right-minded policymakers over the past decade has been to strengthen reentry support so that the odds of recidivism and return to the system are minimized. Less attention has been paid to the consequences that accompany a juvenile conviction but young people as well as adults face system-imposed obstacles to success based on a delinquent or criminal record. 
The philosophical beginnings of the juvenile justice system rested on the notion that young people who became delinquent were amenable to reform and the system should respond by providing ample rehabilitation services. It was also emphasized that youth should be spared from the stigma of involvement with the adult criminal justice system and not be branded as “criminals.” Matters that were dealt with in the juvenile justice system were to be done so in an informal, non-adversarial, and highly confidential manner.