Reclaiming Futures – Reflections on the Eve of the Leadership Institute

I’m heading to the airport … along with representatives from every Reclaiming Futures community. We’re meeting in New Orleans (see photo at left) this week for our bi-annual Leadership Institute. 
These meetings mark times for both reflection and growth. Anyone who’s been part of the initiative from the beginning can’t help but burst with pride to see what’s been sustained; challenged to see the losses; and deeply humbled by how much remains to be done.
But Reclaiming Futures is not only still here, we’re still growing. We’re now an unprecedented size -- 23 communities representing 15 states and tribes, and excited to welcome three new sites to the RF family this fall.
Our Leadership Institute will feature two keynote speakers who will surely inspire and fuel us for the significant challenges and opportunities ahead: Marian Wright Edelman and Shay Bilchik. Both are visionaries and accomplished change agents by any measure. 

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.

Reclaiming Futures' New Partnership and Development Director - an Interview

Photo of Mark FulopI’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. 

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.

Juvenile Justice and Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment - More Resources for Your Toolbox

logo of wrench
Here's several useful tools and resources on best practices in juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and juvenile brain research:

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?

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: 

CSAT - Two Grants Available for Adolescents Needing Treatment

Smarties with dollar signsThanks to Join Together, we've got information about two new grants available from the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT): 

  1. Family-Centered Substance Abuse Treatment Grants - These focus on treating adolescents in a holistic way. They are designed to "provide substance-abuse services to adolescents, their families/primary caregivers and older transition-age youth and where appropriate, any significant others/mentors or other appropriate adults." Grantees will be trained in and implement the Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach (A-CRA) and the Assertive Continuing Care (ACC) protocol. Deadline April 24th.
  2. Even more funds are available for the Offender Reentry Program grants, which seek to "expand and/or enhance substance abuse treatment and related recovery and reentry services to sentenced juvenile and adult offenders returning to the community from incarceration for criminal/juvenile offenses." Deadline May 21st.

Youth Leadership Curriculum - Recommendations?

Kelly Graves has a question for you.
Kelly, who is Associate Director & Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is a Community Fellow associated with the Reclaiming Futures site in Guilford County, NC. Her agency will be offering a youth leadership series for teens in the justice system with alcohol and drug issues and is beginning its planning now.
So: any advice for Kelly on a good (ideally evidence-based) youth leadership curriculum aimed at youth with substance abuse issues who are also in trouble with the law? 
Feel free to contact Kelly directly, or leave a comment below. 
I'll share anything I learn.

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?