Roundup: 20 Key Stories of 2009

juvenile-justice-system-adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment-2009-news_signOnly recently, I shared our 10 most popular posts, eight of the best resources published on this blog on improving adolescent drug treatment, and a list of positive activities for kids in the justice system. (That was all to celebrate the blog's first birthday, in November.)
But looking back over our posts for 2009, I see we never compiled a list of the most important stories of the year. Stories, in other words, that might herald major shifts in policy, breakthroughs in the research, or that were important enough to make the national news.  Those, then, comprise the 20 stories I've collected below.

Juvenile Justice & Adolescent Treatment - Policy News

  1. Editorials in both The Washington Post and The New York Times urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to move forward on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) -- which it did, by a 12-7 vote. The bill is expected to be considered by the full Senate in early 2010. The JJDPA is the federal legislation that provides the policy framework for juvenile justice systems nationally; it's three years overdue for re-authorization.
  2. The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) may be a casualty of the fight over health reform. In many states, the government program often pays for adolescent substance abuse treatment, among many other things. [Anyone know the current status on this?]
  3.  A new national standard for defining juvenile recidivism may be on the way, Youth Today reported.

  4. A new legal strategy was developed to address Disproportionate Minority Confinement (DMC): suing public officials when they fail to implement tested approaches to eliminate disparate treatment. The work is being funded by W. K. Kellogg Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  5. Privacy for youth in juvenile court may soon be a thing of the past -- and that might be a good thing, at least according to an article in The News Media and The Law, a publication of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
  6. The medical field seemed to get serious about addressing addictions when the American Board of Addiction Medicine certified its first group of physicians as addiction specialists and news broke that hospitals might soon be required to screen and provide brief intervention for addictions in order to be accredited.
  7. Meanwhile, the American Medical Association (AMA) recommended that the government take marijuana off the list of Schedule I drugs so that its medical uses can be properly researched. However, the AMA was careful to say that their recommendation "should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product."
  8. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used every day to diagnose youth in the justice system with mental health and addiction issues, but the latest revision of the manual has become engulfed in a controversy that a Psychology Today columnist called a "civil war". According to him, one bone of contention is the perceived influence that pharmaceutical companies have on what qualifies as a disorder and makes it into the manual. Which is why the news that poor children are prescribed anti-psychotic drugs at four times the rate of middle-class children, and receive them for "less severe conditions" than middle-class children do, is especially disturbing.

Research That Could Change Juvenile Justice or Substance Abuse Treatment

  1. Research done by youth at the Center for Court Innovation in New York found that youth had no clear understanding of how the juvenile justice system works or how their actions affect their case outcomes; that youth think their lawyers are working against them; that lawyers say their frequent inability to reach their clients by phone or otherwise hurts their ability to defend them; and that family members have no idea how much impact their actions have on judges’ decisions about whether to release or incarcerate their children. More research is needed: if juvenile courts concentrated on addressing these communication issues, would youth complete supervision faster?
  2. The MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change initiative released some preliminary results of "Pathways to Desistance," its 7-year longitudinal study of youth who committed "serious" felonies. The good news is that most kids stop re-offending or at least commit less serious crimes after being in the justice system (though 8.5% do not, and we can't tell ahead of time who that 8.5% will be). What works to stop them from reoffending: (a) comprehensive aftercare for six months after a long-term stay in a juvenile facility; and (b) substance abuse treatment, if the family is involved. (UPDATE: See this post for recent details from the "Pathways" study.)
  3. A "vaccine" to treat cocaine addiction appears to be on the horizon. If it works, perhaps it could be the thin end of the wedge in terms of treating addictions to other drugs?
  4. Kids often end up in the justice system after frequent suspensions and fights at school. What's an effective way to reduce school violence and  suspensions? Getting serious about implemeting restorative justice in schools. The schools really have to be part of our crime prevention efforts: drop out of high school, and you stand a good chance of ending up in jail or detention -- especially if you're a young black male.
  5. If you're an adolescent treatment provider, online treatment will likely become more and more important. Research this year showed that online treatment can work for addiction and depression, and virtual worlds like Second Life are being used successfully to retain kids after residential treatment.
  6. Teens in the juvenile justice system are more likely to commit crimes as adults because delinquent behavior is "contagious", according to a 20-year research project in Canada. The solutions? More investments in prevention programs for pre-adolescents, and ending the practice of grouping delinquent youth together in services designed to help them. (No advice on how to accomplish the latter item.)
  7. A new test devised by an L.A. researcher is said to predict the likelihood that a young person will join a gang. The goal of the test is to connect these young people with gang prevention services. That could be very useful, as long as appropriate safeguards are in place to assure that it isn't misused.

Juvenile Justice in the National News

  1. The New York Times covered a lot of important juvenile justice-related stories this year, but one of the most hopeful was its coverage of the Missouri Model. TIME magazine got into the act as well, publishing a piece on the need to fix the juvenile justice system. One thing it recommended: providing adequate mental health and substance abuse treatment for teens in the system. 
  2. The Supreme Court took up life without parole for juveniles; advocates hope that the Court will severely restrict use of that sentence, if not eliminate its use altogether.
  3. The case of two judges "jailing kids for cash" in Pennsylvania's Luzerne County was probably the most sensational juvenile justice scandal of the year (and there were several). Here's a piece from a Pennsylvania paper applauding the Juvenile Law Center for its tenacious pursuit of justice in the case.

Good News

  1. The Justice Policy Institute issued a report using data from multiple states to show that keeping kids out of detention cuts crime and saves money.
  2. Reclaiming Futures can stop the "revolving door" of treatment. Forgive the shameless plug. The way I see it, it's always good to end with a solution.  

What Did I Miss?

What do you think were the most important stories of 2009 for professionals in the juvenile justice system and adolescent substance abuse treatment? Leave a comment!
(Photo by mimax.)

Updated: February 08 2018