Blog: Public Policy

Roundup: Art by Detained Youth Auctioned; MSNBC Show About Juvenile Justice; And Much More

Upcoming Trainings, Conferences & a Call for Conference Proposals

News Updates

  • The Harlem's Children's Zone (featured in Paul Tough's book, "Whatever it Takes") hasn't just produced good results, it's produced amazing results, according to this editorial by David Brooks in The New York Times. The Harvard economist who evaluated the charter schools in the Zone, wrote, “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes.”

Keeping Kids Out of the Justice System Saves Money and Cuts Crime - But Prevention & Intervention Monies Dry Up

Looking for a succinct, convincing brief to support your case that keeping teens out of the justice system actually cuts crime and saves money?
Look no further than the Justice Policy Institute's (JPI) new brief, The Costs of Confinement: Why Good Juvenile Justice Policies Make Good Fiscal Sense. For example, check out the charts on pp. 10-11. They show that the 10 states that lowered youth populations the most in juvenile justice facilities between 1997-2006 saw violent offenses go down 9%, and non-violent offenses dropped by 16%. 
Yet the 10 states who put the most kids into juvenile justice facilities during the same time period saw their violent offenses go up by 8%. While their non-violent offenses did decline, they only declined by an average of 10% -- a 6% smaller drop than was seen in states who locked up fewer kids.

Upcoming Webinars - "Bridges Out of Poverty" & Treatment of Adolescents Using Opiods

Reclaiming-Futures-webinarsWe've still got a few spaces left in two great webinars. Both will be closed at 75 participants, so register now!
[UPDATE: the "Bridges out of Poverty" webinar has come and gone, but there's still space in "Treatment of Adolescents with Opiod Use Disorders." Scroll down for more info!]
Here's the details:

Philip DeVol on Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities
When: Thursday, May 21st, 10:30am-12:00pm PDT / 1:30-3:00pm EDT
To Participate: scroll down to "How to Sign Up."

Roundup: Drug Czar Backs Away from "Drug War"; First World Congress on Juvenile Restorative Justice; and More

  • juvenile-justice-adolescent-alcohol-and-drug-treatment-newspaper.jpgYou'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.

Shay Bilchik at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute

juvenile-justice-expert-Shay-Bilchik-&-LauraNissenIn addition to hosting Marian Wright Edelman at our Leadership Institute in New Orleans last week, we were also honored to have Mr. Shay Bilchik (seen at left with Laura Nissen, National Director of Reclaiming Futures) as our guest. Mr. Bilchik is founder and director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. (The CJJR recently put out recommendations on improving services to youth transitioning out of the juvenile justice and/or child welfare systems.)
Mr. Bilchik spoke entertainingly and cogently on where he thinks the juvenile justice system needs to go to be successful. The full text of his remarks should be available in the next few weeks; in the mean time, rough notes on his speech are below. (I'm grateful to Reclaiming Futures staffer Mimmy Patterson for her extensive notes, which I've supplemented here and there. My apologies to Mr. Bilchik if we've mangled his presentation.) 

Bonus Roundup: NC Proposal Would Raise Age for Juvenile Prosecution from 16 to 18; Illinois Sticker Shock Campaign Addresses Adults Buying Alcohol for Teens; and More

juvenile-justice-adolescent-treatment-news-newspaperThere's so much going on, I had to post another news roundup this week:

Roundup: Juvenile Life-Without-Parole Cases to be Reviewed by Supreme Court; Racism May Hurt Kids' Mental Health; and More

  • juvenile-justice-adolescent-treatment-news-newspaperBiggest 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.

Recipes from Juvenile Probation

cookbookCheck out these recipes from a juvenile probation camp in L.A. County, Camp Gonzalez. For the past five years, 50 teens have been in the cooking class; last week, some of this year's students catered a successful event for the L.A. Commission for Children and Families. It would be nice to see more of this kind of vocational education for youth in the justice system -- it's practical, and should give the teens useful skills. 
However, this editorial in The Huffington Post makes it clear that not everyone's happy with L.A.'s juvenile justice system -- or should be. The columnist argues for adopting the "Missouri Model" to lower the recidvism rate by switching from warehousing kids to addressing their underlying issues. It's cheaper, and backed by research: give me another helping of that.

Roundup: Online Treatment May Be Effective; Using Teen Brain Research in Court; and More

Reclaiming Futures' Keynote Speaker: Marian Wright Edelman

Laura Nissen and Marian Wright EdelmanThe 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):

Supporting Youth Leaving Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare - New Recommendations

Youth in transition reportIn part because of research that indicates that the human brain doesn't fully mature until about age 25, we now know that youth who are "connected by 25" -- have sufficient education, employment skills, and a positive social network -- are likely to be successful in life. But youth without such preparation are likely to struggle, at great cost to themselves and to society.

Roundup: Mississippi Private Firm Denies Abuse in Juvenile Detention; New Tool from NIDA for Physicians; Micro-Trainings in Juvenile Drug Courts; and More

  • newspaperMississippi 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.

Minority Overrepresentation in Juvenile Justice: Frustrations and Promising Signs of Change

[The following post is courtesy of Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project. -Ed.]
Despite the federal mandate to address it, minority overrepresentation has persisted in nearly every state’s juvenile justice system for decades. Racial and ethnic disparities often mount as youth move through the system, from referral to secure confinement.  To demonstrate, note that African American youth represent 15% of the general population, yet they represent 28% of youth arrests, nearly 40% of those in juvenile residential placement, and as much as 58% of those entering adult prison.[1]

Mississippi Juvenile Detention Center Sued for Abusing Youth

newspaperBack 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? 

Juvenile Justice and Youth Drug Treatment Policy: What Should the Administration Do Next?

If it were up to you, what would you have the Obama Administration do in its next 100 days to help teens in the juvenile justice system struggling with alcohol and drug issues? 
You can submit your answers, using stories (100 words or less), pictures, and videos (no more than 2 minutes), to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's "100 Days/100 Voices" campaign beginning April 30th. (Follow the link for info on how to participate.)
While the Casey Foundation's campaign has a broader focus, this is your chance to speak out on behalf of kids in the justice system caught in the cycle of drugs, alcohol, and crime -- and their families. 

Roundup: Innovative D.C. Detention School; Illinois Program Diverts Teens from Prison; Support for the JJDPA; and More

Tracking Adolescent Substance Use and Abuse in North Carolina

map of North Carolina with dataDuke University has just launched a great website that allows policymakers and others to get information about teen alcohol and drug use in North Carolina.  It pulls from multiple public information sources about teen arrests for possession by drug, emergency room visits, and much more. County data can be compared to state data, data can be examined by county on a map of North Carolina ... and that's just the start.
The amount of information and possible permutations to explore on the Substance Abuse Among North Carolina Adolescents site are both impressive. Every state should have a tool like this.
Know of others? Let me know!
UPDATE: I've been informed that Duke created the website in partnership with the Center for Youth, Family, Community Partnerships at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, with a grant from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT).Additional partners are listed on the splash page.

Agnosticism and the Search for EBP

We in the youth services field should never let our desire to be "evidence-based" turn us into a "faith-based" movement. When we're searching for the most effective ways to help young people avoid trouble with drugs and stay out of the justice system, we should be agnostics — even the most attractive new answer should never stop us from asking important questions.

Reforming the Juvenile Justice System – Four Lessons from an Expert

Below are four lessons in reforming the juvenile justice system that I gleaned from a recent interview with Bart Lubow, Director of the Programs for High Risk Youth at the Annie E. Casey Foundation (pictured below). He’s best known for his pioneering work leading the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which helps jurisdictions safely reduce unnecessary reliance on juvenile  detention and stimulate other reforms, notably reducing disproportionate minority confinement. --Ed.

photo of Bart Lubow
Lesson #1: Be Specific About What You’re Changing
"The biggest reason why system reform efforts fail is that they don’t provide system players with an alternative set of policies and programs. Instead, they provide a lot of vague talk, such as, 'We’ve gotta collaborate,' or 'We’ve got to be different,' etc.  Without providing the guts of the new, re-engineered system, the status quo prevails. Though people are often critical of initiatives that are relatively prescriptive in terms of laying out the elements of the system reform, it’s a naïve proposition to expect the status quo to be overcome without a lot of operational detail. There can be lots of room for local adaptation, but within a fairly prescriptive framework."

Roundup: Racial Impact Statements, EBPs Retain Employees, and More


  • 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?