Blog: Public Policy

When Being a Teenager is Against the Law

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: 

Roundup: New Jersey's Detention Reform Success; All Teens Should be Screened for Depression; and More

  • newspaperNew 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."

Research: Teens Still Struggle Three Years after Detention

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?

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act - Update

As those of you who care about juvenile justice no doubt know already, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which sets standards for juvenile justice systems throughout the United States, is overdue for renewal.
The good news is that the JJDPA was reintroduced last week in the U.S. Senate, although Youth Today wondered about the JJDPA's fate in the House of Representatives. Even better: you can hear Nancy Gannon Hornberger, Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), explain the JJDPA and its core principles in a podcast posted by the Campaign for Youth Justice.

Roundup: What's Working (and Not) in Juvenile Justice; More Children Insured; Drug Czar's #2; and More


  • 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.

"Whatever It Takes" Book Giveaway - Winner!

book cover
We have a winner! Earlier this week, I announced that we'd give away a copy of "Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, by journalist Paul Tough. 
To choose a winner, I took all of those who entered the contest and I numbered their entries. Then I entered the first and last numbers in the Random Number Generator, and pushed the button. The generator picked a number at random, and we had our winner: Shawn Billings, Probation & Field Services Supervisor for the Family/Juvenile Court in the Reclaiming Futures site in Greene County, MO. (FYI, you don't have to work at a Reclaiming Futures site to enter or win; Shawn just got lucky.)
Congratulations to Shawn! For the rest of you, we'll have more giveaways coming up. Stay tuned!

What Does it Take to Change the Lives of Poor Children in Big Numbers? -- Book Giveaway

book coverWant to change the system -- not just the juvenile justice system, but entire neighborhoods -- to reclaim the futures of the kids who live in your community?
Then dream big.
To help you, we're giving away a copy of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, by journalist Paul Tough.  "This is a dispatch from inside the most daring and potentially transformative social experiment of our time."
Here are the rules: drop me an email (sorry, posting a comment doesn't count) with the subject line "WHATEVER IT TAKES," and please include your name and full mailing address. We'll take all entries until 12:00 pm PST/3:00pm EST on Thursday, March 27th  March 26th and then the Random Number Generator will make its merciless decision. Good luck to all entrants!
(Please note: I will add all entrants' e-mail addresses to our mailing list to receive our weekly email digest unless you request otherwise.)

Roundup: New Drug Czar Confirmed; Rethinking Drinking; Money for Mentoring; and More

  • As expected, R. Gil Kerlikowske has been officially named America's "Drug Czar", according to Join Together. While the former Seattle police chief seems to be a good choice, the "drug czar" positoin will no longer be part of the President's Cabinet. Though this might suggest that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will have reduced influence on policy, apparently Vice President Joe Biden will also be working on the issue. (See coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post.)

"Rethinking Juvenile Justice" Giveaway - Winner!

book coverWe have a winner! Earlier this week, I announced that we'd give away a copy of "Rethinking Juvenile Justice," by Elizabeth S. Scott and Laurence Steinberg. To choose a winner, I took all of those who entered the contest by leaving a comment or dropping me an email, and I numbered their entries. Then I entered the first and last numbers in the Random Number Generator, and pushed the button. The generator picked a number at random, and we had our winner: "Sandy".  (Sandy, send me an email with your full name and mailing address, and we'll get the book mailed out to you next week.)
For the rest of you, we'll be giving away a copy of Paul Tough's inspiring book, Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and Americain a week or two. Stay tuned!

Juvenile Detention Reform - Hear from a National Expert

Man with questions looks through magnifying glassGot a question about juvenile detention reform?
Whether your community has been working to address disproportionate minority confinement for years, or is just beginning to think about how to address it, you'll want to tune into this online broadcast on juvenile detention reform on March 5th at 4:30 pm EST.  Bart Lubow, who leads the Annie E. Casey Foundation's national Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), will be interviewed. He'll be taking quesions from the audience, too. Can't make it? Don't worry -- the recorded show will be archived.

Rethinking Juvenile Justice - Book Giveaway!

book coverReclaiming Futures is nothing if not eager to share. Every now and then, we're going to offer up a few giveaways to readers of the blog. This week, we're giving away a copy of "Rethinking Juvenile Justice," by Elizabeth S. Scott and Laurence Steinberg. In it, they "outline a new developmental model of juvenile justice that recognizes adolescents' immaturity but also holds them accountable."
And you could have your very own free copy if you enter our contest.

Enrolling Kids in Medicaid and CHIP - What Works

person directing someone using a pencilThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJ) has just funded a 4-year, $15 million initiative to help eight states increase kids' enrollment in Medicaid and  the states' Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Grantees include three states in which Reclaiming Futures is operating -- Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York -- as well as Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. An estimated 7 million children in the United States are eligible for -- but not enrolled in -- Medicaid and CHIP. Along with other needed health care, these programs can pay for alcohol and drug treatment for teens.

Key Attitudes on Addiction from National Survey

person filling out surveyA recent national survey of attitudes toward addiction performed by Hazelden contains some encouraging news: 

  • 77% of Americans agree that addiction treatment should be part of healthcare reform (though many are unsure if their own insurance plan covers it); and
  • 78% of Americans "understand that drug addiction is a chronic disease rather than a personal failing."

Protecting Youth in the Justice System from Self-Incrimination

Justice with scales and swordLourdes Rosado is a Senior Attorney for Juvenile Law Center. Below, she introduces a useful guide to help your community screen teens for behavioral health and drug problems while protecting their rights in and out of juvenile court. Juvenile Law Center is the oldest multi-issue public interest law firm in the country dedicated to advancing the rights and well-being of children in jeopardy.—Ed. 
In the last decade, states and localities have worked hard to identify and treat the large percentage of youth in the juvenile justice system who have mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Reclaiming Futures in Uncertain Times - Needed Now More than Ever!

compass pointing NorthComplicated times… In so many ways, youth advocates have access to more helpful information, inspiration, role models and heroes than ever before. We have movements, evidence-based practices, champions and momentum for a variety of important reforms and improvements across a range of youth-serving systems. 
At the exact same time, we watch disparities grow, budgets strain under pressure, poverty persist among too many. Within Reclaiming Futures communities, even those who have been the most successful implementing the model feel they must rigorously defend each and every aspect of their programs in these budget-trimming times. 
Yet now more than ever before, it's essential to focus on our key components:

Two Judges Paid to Send Juveniles to Detention - Lessons Learned

scales of justice blocked outChances are, you saw the news that two judges in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty last week to charges that for five years, they funnelled teens into detention in exchange for $2.6 million in kickbacks. This, after they'd worked to get the county-run detention center shut down in 2002. An estimated 5,000 juveniles who appeared in court were victimized this way; many for behavior that should never have landed them in court in the first place. A class-action lawsuit brought by the Juvenile Law Center is in the offing, and possibly -- hopefully -- charges against those running the private detention centers. 
This is appalling news. But it's also unusual. Juvenile court judges deserve the trust we place in them; they have a difficult job, trying to use the power of the court to help young people turn their lives around. 
What can more fortunate jurisdictions, then, learn from this story? I came away thinking about two things:

Teen Suicides in Justice System Often Unknown to State Regulators

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.

Juvenile Justice and Teen Substance Abuse Treatment - News Roundup

  • 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."