Archive for Juvenile Justice

Washington State Bill on Sealing Juvenile Court Records Advances

gavelA Washington State Senate bill to automatically seal court records for juveniles guilty of all but a handful of heinous crimes rolled through the state House and picked up momentum during Senate hearings. It has the worthwhile and compassionate intention of preventing people from marring their permanent records through youthful misjudgments.

The concept was so appealing, in fact, that lawmakers were willing to set aside issues like government transparency, court accountability and even the declaration of Washington state’s constitution that: “Justice in all cases shall be administered openly.”

Proponents of H.B. 1651 have cited instances in which young adults were denied jobs, housing or college admission when background checks uncovered things like drug infractions, thefts or assaults on their juvenile records. One young woman, now a law-abiding military wife, told legislators she has been unable to find current employment because she committed a theft when she was young.

Teens and young adults who have behaved themselves are already entitled to request the clearing or sealing of their juvenile records, but this requires knowledge of the opportunity and the following of several steps to do so. Today, the reach of the Internet creates urgency for doing this effectively.

A Seattle legal project now coaches juvenile offenders on how to navigate the court system to have their records cleaned up. The very need for this training exposes the fact that different people have varying levels of access to this potential remedy.

The original House bill would automatically seal virtually all records for juvenile offenders, from the point of arrest onward. But in an amended bill, senators, address the problem of unequal and inconsistent administration of the process for sealing records. Under the pending senate version, courts will administratively schedule opportunities for offenders who have turned 18 (and met all the terms and costs of their court sentences) to apply to have their cases sealed. They will be able to do this without appearing in court or hiring a lawyer.

An editorial in the Everett, WA Veterans’ website Herald.Net declares:

We live in a time when win-win solutions are disparaged, and compromise is viewed as a dilution of virtue. Champions of H.B. 1651 no doubt believe they are pursuing a great good by shielding young offenders from long-term consequences. The Senate action shows the problem can be addressed incisively, effectively and without undue harm to our state’s fundamental principles.

At present, in Washington, juvenile court records do not automatically disappear when a person turns 18. In fact, almost all of his or her juvenile records remain open for the public to view, unless they ask a court to seal them. The person must meet certain requirements to be eligible to have his or her record sealed. Eligibility depends on such factors, as the seriousness of the juvenile offense, the amount of time that has passed since their most recent conviction and the existence of any pending criminal matters.

Type A felonies certain to remain unsealed include murder, rape, arson, kidnapping, possession of an incendiary device, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, child molestation and other sex crimes.

As things stand today, the official juvenile court file is physically kept in the court clerk’s office in the county where the juvenile court matter took place. A record of one’s juvenile court case, from arrest through the disposition, is also available to the public on the Washington State Court’s website.

More Than 500 Well-structured and –run Juvenile Drug Courts are Reducing Recidivism and Alleviating a Range of Individual, Family and Community Problems

Image by Images_of_Money, used under it's Creative Commons license

Image by Images_of_Money, used under it’s Creative Commons license

Because four of five juvenile crimes involve drugs, the first juvenile drug court program began operations in Key West, Fla., in October 1993. By June 2009 there were approximately 500 juvenile drug courts operating in the United States, and the number of them has continued to grow.

A National Institutes of Justice Report on Juvenile Drug
Courts found that in studies of 70 courts, recidivism went down for participants.

A major report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention observed:

Professional personnel involved with these programs agree that juvenile drug courts exercise more intensive supervision over juvenile offenders than do traditional juvenile courts. It is believed that the rigorous monitoring of participants and the treatment and rehabilitation requirements of juvenile drug court programs promote a greater likelihood of success in reducing drug use and delinquent activity than can be achieved through most existing juvenile court processes.

Frequently established within juvenile courts, juvenile drug courts are intensive treatment programs that provide specialized services for drug-involved youth and their families. Service areas include substance abuse treatment, mental health, primary care, family assistance and education.

The DOJ report cites eight key elements of an effective juvenile drug court program:

  1. Its team should include, at a minimum, a judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, treatment provider, evaluator and school representative, working collaboratively to meet the needs of the juvenile and his or her family.
  2. Intervention by the court should be as soon as possible following the juvenile’s initial contact with the justice system and there should be continuous judicial supervision through frequent (often weekly) status hearings with the juvenile and his or her family.
  3. There should be development of a court-supervised program of substance-abuse treatment and other core services to address the multifaceted issues that the juvenile and his or her family face (such as the juvenile’s substance use, family and educational needs and behavioral problems as they affect his or her ability to lead a drug-free life).
  4. There needs to be effective coordination of treatment and other services.
  5. Ongoing monitoring of the youngster’s progress in the program through frequent random urinalysis, continuous supervision and proactive case management is important.
  6. Essential is immediate judicial response to the progress of each participating juvenile or his/her noncompliance with the court’s program conditions.
  7. The judge should be concerned about juveniles and their families, sensitive to cultural and other factors unique to each participant and interested and trained in adolescent development and behavior, substance abuse and pharmacology.
  8. The program philosophy should focus on capitalizing on the strengths of each juvenile and his or her family.

Juvenile drug court services should also promote competency development (e.g., writing, computer literacy, and artistic skills) and the ongoing interaction between treatment and court processes.

Among the special attributes of juvenile drug court treatment services are:

  1. Early and extensive assessment of the juvenile and his or her family situation.
  2. Provision of developmentally based, gender-specific and culturally appropriate treatment and other core services.
  3. Significant focus on family therapy and other services to assist and improve the capacity of the family and juvenile to work together to achieve program goals.
  4. Sustained attention to each juvenile participant’s school performance, peer relationships, development of competencies and self-esteem.
  5. Ongoing case management of services to ensure that the program meets each participant’s current needs.

The initial period of juvenile drug court operations brought to light a number of other special issues that were not readily apparent at the start. The nature of juvenile drug court participants’ substance use and other problems is complex, requiring the provision of an array of family services, specialized treatment, and other core adolescent services. Programs frequently report not only considerable substance use by youth but significant percentages of participants with mental health problems (particularly depression, fetal alcohol syndrome or effects, and learning disabilities) and physical difficulties. In many instances, the nature and extent of these problems do not become apparent until a juvenile has been involved in the program for some time. Ongoing and updated assessments are therefore essential.

The initial experience of juvenile drug courts strongly suggests that services need to be family-focused and complemented by a sound program of other core adolescent services. In addition, individualized treatment services usually need to be developed for participants. Programs also must enable participants to develop the capacity and the self-confidence to fill time previously devoted to drugs and crime with productive activity, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will lead drug- and crime-free lives.

The DOJ report examined seven “exemplary” programs serving 1203 teens, aged 12-18, in FL, CA, NM, MO and MT communities. They each had retention rates of 56% to 77%.

In addition, a number of juvenile drug courts have been adopting the Multisystemic Therapy (MST) approach, which is designed to provide family-based treatment to reduce or eliminate the need for out-of-home placement. MST’s “family preservation” model of service delivery is based on the evidence-supported belief that the most effective strategy for helping substance-involved juvenile offenders is through improving intra-familial relations and assisting the family in providing the support structure that can function during and after the period of the court’s intervention.

The MST approach was developed in response to the lack of scientifically proven, cost-effective strategies designed to treat adolescent substance abuse. Preliminary evaluation of MST programs has indicated that, compared with traditional service, MST has been significantly more effective in reducing long-term rates of criminal behavior and also is considerably less expensive. Additional evaluations now in progress appear to corroborate these results.

Talking Justice: Igor Koutsenok and Susan Madden Lankford

Reforms Initiated in Luzerne County, PA after its “Kids for Cash” Scandal are Improving the Lives of Juvenile Offenders

Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeIn 2009, Pennsylvania Judge Michael Conahan was sentenced to 17 years in prison on a corruption charge and Judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts of racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy, earning him a well-earned 28 years in the pokey. This drew international attention to their shocking “Kids for Cash” crimes.

Their conviction led to the arrest of 30 more public officials, including two state senators, a Luzerne County commissioner, a school superintendent, school directors from three districts, county officials, businessmen and others who held influential posts.

The guilty parties had participated in a $2.8 million kickback scheme connected to the construction of two private, for-profit juvenile detention centers—PA Child Care in Pittston Township and Western PA Child Care in Butler County—and the placement of 1600 youths in those facilities. In exchange, the judges received millions in kickbacks from the developers of these facilities. Many of the youths imprisoned had been charged with only minor offenses.

The “zero-tolerance” mindset of Ciavarella had been accepted and encouraged by school officials and law enforcement nationwide as the way to address all juvenile disciplinary problems, but mounting research and evidence contradicts that. In fact, it has been found to do little to mete out effective punishment, and it undermines kids’ respect for justice.

Earlier this month, the administration of President Barack Obama called for schools to abandon “zero-tolerance,” and the federal Justice and Education departments sent out letters to school districts saying the policies disproportionately affect minority students.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declared that the most appropriate disposition for juveniles replaces reliance on “gut feeling to go in one direction or another” with using “evidence-based practices in making risk assessments” or science-based research to guide and inform them.

A settlement has been approved and another one is pending which set aside a combined $20 million for the juveniles and their parents and guardians involved in the scandal. In the first settlement, $17.5 million will come from defendant Robert Mericle, the real estate developer whose construction company built the juvenile facilities.

Since the crisis, almost every aspect of the state’s juvenile justice system has been overhauled. The placement rate of youths taken from their homes and committed to detention centers or other facilities has dropped to no more than 10 percent from the 20 to 25 percent.

The Supreme Court has ensured that every juvenile is now represented by an attorney. The two judges’ routinely ordered shackling defendants in court, but that is now only used when safety is a consideration.

Since 2003, the total number of case dropped to between 300 and 400, compared to 1,500, due to alternative dispositions and the use of evidence-based practices in making risk assessments.

The rules now require a judge to place on the record the reasons why, after adjudication, a juvenile is placed outside the home. Previously Ciavarella didn’t do this, so there was no record to challenge.

The changes put in place better rules for expunging youths’ records and appealing their cases, starting from the time they learn of suspected violations. The Supreme Court in October 2009 took the remarkable steps of expunging the criminal records of 2,401 juveniles handled by the two former judges and compensating the victims of the juvenile offenders.

A task force made up of volunteers from 19 organizations and court-related departments created programs to address juvenile sex offenders and juvenile fire setters and sent members to schools for forums on the juvenile justice system.

The youth outreach and prevention program that grew out of the task force worked with 39 families in the last six months, and only two of the juveniles involved were returned for placement. Another program for high-risk youth dealt with 32 juveniles in placement, and of the total 25 were returned home.

The scandal shined a light on local wrongdoings, but they are by no means isolated incidents. Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia said:

It’s a mistake to think Luzerne County was kind of a one-off situation. These are issues that can go on in any given courtroom across the country. Certainly there are many more conversations now going on about what it means to be a zealous advocate for kids. Those conversations have helped to eliminate the wholesale adjudication and placement of juveniles with the creation of diversionary programs that keep kids out of court In the past too many low-level offenders were “pushed into the system,” with harmful effects.

Another of the many reforms was a program used elsewhere for years: Youth Aid Panels. Comprised of volunteers who generally undergo about 15 hours of training, these panels meet with first-time, non-violent young offenders poised to enter the justice system but deemed by police, magistrate or the district attorney’s office as candidates for a gentler option.

A contract is forged between panel and juvenile, requiring three months of actions by the offender—things like letters of apology, community service, research projects or family-building efforts such as helping cook a family meal. Once someone fulfills the contract, their offense is expunged. Failure sends the child back into the court system.

Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said:

We started Youth Aid Panels in June, 2011. Currently, 317 children have gone through the program, and 229 successfully completed their contracts.


Restorative Justice is a Growing Progressive Alternative to Youth Incarceration, and it is Significantly Reducing Recidivism

potentialRestorative justice is a growing way of dealing with crime that replaces the centuries-old “crimes against the state” notion with an approach that puts the offender in direct contact with the victim, requiring him or her to take responsibility and make amends for the crime. The needs of the person who was harmed are taken into account as much as possible, and they are involved in dealing with the outcome.

Across the country, restorative justice, especially for juvenile offenders, is gaining support among a growing number of correctional policymakers and practitioners, victim advocates, court officials and law enforcement officials. Already 20 states have introduced and/or passed legislation promoting a restorative juvenile justice system, and 30 other states have restorative justice principles in their mission statements or policy plans. There are individual restorative justice programs in virtually every state, and a growing number of states and local jurisdictions are dramatically changing their criminal and juvenile justice systems to adopt the principles and practices of restorative justice. Restorative justice is now practiced in more than 300 US communities and at more than 1000 locations in Europe.

In restorative justice there is usually dialogue, where all affected people explore one another’s feelings and needs in a safe and respectful environment. A trained neutral third party can help them as they try to reach consensus on how to deal with the aftermath of offending behavior. Family members, friends or others living in the community can have a voice as well.

Holding offenders directly accountable to the people they have violated,
restores the emotional and material losses of victims and provides a range of opportunities for dialogue, negotiation and problem-solving. This can lead to a greater sense of community safety, conflict resolution and closure for all involved.

While denouncing criminal behavior, restorative justice emphasizes the need to treat offenders with respect and to reintegrate them into the larger community in ways that can lead to lawful behavior. Restorative justice encourages the entire community to be involved in holding the offender accountable and promoting a healing response to the needs of both victims and offenders.
Restorative justice can be expressed through a wide range of policies and practices directed toward offenders and crime victims, including: victim support and advocacy, restitution, community service, victim impact panels, victim-offender mediation, circle sentencing, family group conferencing, community boards that meet with offenders to determine appropriate sanctions, victim empathy classes for offenders and community policing.

Victim-offender mediations are conducted by trained mediators who are sensitive to the needs of victims and their families. In some cases the community provides work for offenders so they will be able to pay restitution to victims.

While some Americans continue to advocate greater retribution and harsher penalties for youthful offenders, others believe in the importance of rehabilitating criminals and preventing further crime. Today, victims of crime feel increasingly frustrated and alienated by the current justice system, while increasingly harsh punishments have failed to change criminal behavior.
The initial conceptualization of restorative justice was first clearly articulated by Howard Zehr in the late 1970s. By 1990, an international conference funded by NATO was convened in Italy to examine the growing interest in restorative justice throughout the world. Academicians and practitioners from a wide range of countries presented papers related to its development and impact. The Council of Europe endorsed restorative justice through victim-offender mediation in 1999, and a subcommittee of the UN has also been examining the concept.

In the summer of 1994, after many years of little interest, if not skepticism, the American Bar Association fully endorsed the practice of victim-offender mediation and recommended its development in courts throughout the country. Also, a growing number of victim-support organizations are actively participating in the restorative justice movement.

A cross-national study of victim-offender mediation in four states, four Canadian provinces and two cities of England found high levels of victim and offender satisfaction with the mediation process and outcome. Victims who met the juvenile offender were significantly more likely to have been satisfied with how the justice system handled their case than similar victims who did not participate in mediation. They also were significantly less fearful of being re-victimized after the mediation session. Offenders in mediation were significantly more likely to successfully complete restitution than were similar offenders who did not meet their victim.

A large study of nearly 1300 juvenile offenders found a 32 percent reduction in recidivism among those who participated in a mediation session with their victim. Many recent studies are also finding significant and meaningful reductions in recidivism rates.
The U.S. Education Department’s newly released guidelines for school discipline call for an end to punitive punishment, and this should continue to fuel the movement.

Mariame Kaba, founding director of Project NIA, a Chicago-based nonprofit that supports youth involved in the criminal justice system, with a mission to eradicate the incarceration of minors, says:

We began our work of interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline in our community by setting up a ‘peace room’ at a local school. We brought in volunteers who were trained in restorative justice and encouraged school administrators and teachers to send young people to the peace room, as opposed to suspending them from school or arresting them.

I want Chicago schools to train teachers in how to work with young people in non-punitive ways. I would also love for there not to be any police officers in the schools any more. Chicago Public Schools has done a great job of taking zero tolerance out of the discipline code, but they haven’t funded the necessary initiatives. We also need to try to end the criminalization of youth of color.


Panel Believes Brain Development Should Seriously Influence the Treatment of Juvenile Offenders


brains! (Photo credit: cloois)

At the recent Models for Change National Working Conference, experts declared that adolescent brain development should play a greater role in determining how youths are treated in the juvenile justice system.

Adolescent brain development has played an increasingly important role in juvenile justice in recent years. For example, the Supreme Court has noted in key decisions that juveniles’ brains are not fully developed, so youths are more susceptible than adults to peer pressure, more impulsive, more likely to take risks, less likely to consider long-term consequences and more amenable to rehabilitation.

Neuroscientist B.J. Casey, director of the Sackler Institute at the Weill Cornell Medical College, said:

Brain maturation doesn’t occur in isolation, but is all about adapting to the environment and developing based on the experiences that the individual has. And if you’re going to reach full adulthood, adolescence is a transient period where the child is learning how to be more reliant on himself in making judgments and decisions as opposed to parents. And without the opportunities and reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, they’ll really have difficulty in transitioning into that role.

Some notions of the U.S. juvenile justice system date to its origins in the 1890s, and are likely inappropriate today.

Panelist Richard Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, spoke of a 2012 National Research Council report he co-authored which concluded that the treatment of juvenile offenders should reflect knowledge about adolescent brain development. He said:

In the Supreme Court’s 1967 Gault decision, one of the criticisms of the juvenile justice system was that we had not delivered on the rehabilitative ideals and the promise of prevention and instead had fallen into punishment in fact, if not in law. The NRC report embraces fairness, so accountability is not just some alternative word to use for smuggling punishment into the juvenile justice system. Instead it is a way of understanding and holding a young person accountable for their behavior, to teach responsibility and promote successful law-abiding behavior as adults.

Adolescents are hyper-sensitive to whether they’re being treated fairly, so everyone in the juvenile justice system has to make a point of doing so.

Fairborz Pakseresht, who took over last year as director of the Oregon Youth Authority, said the juvenile justice system must adapt to advances in knowledge about adolescent development and base its policies on research and data. He stated:

We are emerging from a system that is based in old thinking. In the current mold, we think that you commit X crime and you get X number of years or months. And the question becomes whether that is the best way of dealing with our youth. The biggest challenge is changing our whole mindset and changing the function within our system and facilities.

Youths in the juvenile justice system can also be seen as victims. What we need to do in our system is not victimize them and further traumatize them. They’re going to become our neighbors.

Pakseresht said statistics showed that of the youths moved from the juvenile system to the adult Division of Corrections in Oregon, because of behavior, recidivism increased by 136 percent among them. When he received a list of six youths who facility personnel believed should be transferred to the DOC, Pakseresht denied the requests.

“The governor did not hire me to send them to DOC,” he said. “I am here to create better outcomes for communities, so we have to do the best for them.”


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Illinois Badly Needs Further Juvenile Justice Reform

Seal of Illinois. Center image extracted from ...

Seal of Illinois.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Illinois has some of the harshest youth-sentencing laws in the United States, under which a child as young as 13 can be automatically sentenced to life in prison, with no discretion for a judge to consider age or individual circumstances.

Abner J. Mikva, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Peter Bensinger, a former administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, urge Illinois lawmakers to pass HB1348/SB1858, which would allow judges to consider a “youth’s unique circumstances, such as age, maturity and role in the crime.” The legislation follows the Supreme Court ruling last year in Miller v. Alabama banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

On May 14, 2013, the Illinois Senate voted  to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18, so that 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies would be tried and sentenced in juvenile court rather than adult court. The bill, which was approved by the Illinois House last April, heads next to Gov. Pat Quinn for signature. Thirty-eight states have already set 18 as the age for prosecution in adult court.

Moreover, Illinois received compelling evidence last week that incarcerating young people doesn’t rehabilitate them. Independent experts told a federal court that Illinois’ juvenile prison system has many inadequacies, including that it operates an education program far below minimally accepted standards, does not meet the basic mental health needs of incarcerated youth and uses solitary confinement too often and for too long, with potentially damaging effects on youngsters who return to their communities.

In the past three years the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) has brought significant improvements in some conditions and delivery of rehabilitative services to kids held in state prisons. IDJJ has established a new aftercare program to transition youth back to their homes after leaving prison. Over the past seven years, new state programs and policies have reduced the number of youth in state prisons from more than 1,400 to around 900, which is good news for those youth who can be held accountable for their actions at the local level, don’t have to leave home to receive treatment for mental illnesses or addictions and don’t need to have their educations interrupted.

But the experts’ reports, which are part of a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Illinois, describe shocking conditions that still exist in the state: little schooling, inadequate mental health care even for youth in severe crisis, squalid conditions in the “confinement” units and youth languishing in prison far beyond their release date due to a lack of community-based placements. To its credit, IDJJ allowed the three experts inside and is attempting to resolve the suit without costly litigation. Gov.Quinn and all Illinois legislators and policymakers need to read these reports and pay careful attention to their findings.

A close examination of what’s going on in Illinois could be instructive to other states with youth prisons, because there is considerable evidence that mass incarceration of youngsters in large prison facilities is a fatally flawed concept.

Retired Judge Georgr W. Timberlake says:

The ACLU lawsuit could produce great change, especially if the federal court can demolish whatever bureaucratic barriers have prevented IDJJ from delivering a quality education and from diagnosing and treating mental illnesses that brought so many into prison. However, the best way to ‘fix’ the terrible conditions the reports describe is a dramatic reduction in the number of youth incarcerated. We must keep more youth in their homes, receiving the kind of supervision and services proven to reduce reoffending much more effectively and at a fraction of the cost of sending a youth to prison.

The three experts have these recommendations for Illinois, which would benefit other states too.

1) Cook County fills many state prison beds with 18-21-year-old men awaiting trial on a new adult charge. They are held for months at state expense due to a violation of parole connected to an earlier action as a juvenile. But if they’re going to trial on a more serious adult charge in Cook County, they should be held there, where they have better access to attorneys and where local taxpayers can pay the bill. IDJJ should refuse to accept them and should put the dollars saved into better rehabilitative services. Illinois has helped lower youth prison numbers in 28 counties which agreed to send 25 percent fewer young people to state prison in exchange for financial assistance.

2) The Redeploy Illinois prison-diversion program, which began in 2006, has been a huge success. This year, Gov. Quinn signed legislation tailor-made to ease Cook County into the program, but officials have dragged their feet. Cook County and others that commit large numbers of juveniles should be given a choice of participating in Redeploy Illinois or paying the state the nearly $100,000 annual cost of incarcerating each juvenile.

3) Today, 10 percent of the kids in Illinois prisons have been approved for release, but they remain behind bars because they aren’t welcome home: either because the state places restrictions on where they can live or because they need substance abuse or mental health treatment and none is readily available. Illinois needs to step up the search for approved living arrangements and help create them when none are available.

4) About one half of the youngsters entering Illinois prisons last year were re-incarcerated for violating the terms of their parole. Often, these were “technical violations,” like failing to attend school or obey a curfew. Illinois needs to shorten the length of parole, which can last up to five years for some, and require technical parole violations to be addressed with more effective interventions than re-incarceration.

Judge Timberlake concludes:

The ‘important strides’ Illinois has made in juvenile justice reform should be the first steps in a marathon of wide-reaching reforms. We cannot afford to run in place.


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“Models for Change” System Aims at Needed Juvenile Justice Reforms

Behind Bars, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Behind Bars, Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photo credit: Scott (Double Beard) Savage)

The John D. and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, which has already funded $150 million in juvenile justice reform research and programs over nearly two decades, just pledged another $15 million to establish a Models for Change Resource Center Partnership.

“Right now there are no go-to places to get the kind of information, resources, toolkits, and access to colleagues who have ‘been there and done that,’ for would-be juvenile justice reform advocates,” said Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform for the MacArthur Foundation. The new Partnership aims to be that place people call when they want to make the kind of policy changes that result in better outcomes for kids and communities, including rehabilitation, treatment in home communities and competent legal defense.

The announcement came at the 2013 summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), an annual gathering of 5,000 state lawmakers, staff, advocates, lobbyists and others. NCSL will be one of several allies that MacArthur will tap to help coordinate and push juvenile justice reforms. The Partnership is expected to be fully operational within 2013.

Garduque says:

The other half of what the Partnership aims to do is to make sure people like legislators, sheriffs and court administrators see MacArthur-researched juvenile justice practices when they get together and discuss their own best practices.

The Partnership will set up four go-to centers in different policy areas: mental health training and care, legal defense, status offense reform and a more general juvenile justice center focused on court-involved youth.

Currently, Models for Change supports a network of government and court officials, legal advocates, educators, community leaders and families who work together in six key areas to ensure that kids who make mistakes are held accountable and are treated fairly throughout the juvenile justice process. It provides research-based tools and techniques to make juvenile justice more fair, effective, rational and developmentally-appropriate.
Models for Change has supported many counties and states in reforming the way they treat kids who have committed crimes. Local officials say that Models for Change has helped them improve public safety and support juveniles, even as they grapple with tight budgets and tough fiscal decisions. The progress that has been seen in Models for Change communities shows that when committed people come together real reform can create lasting change.

The Models for Change juvenile justice system reform initiative is now working comprehensively in four states (Washington. Illinois, Louisiana and Pennsylvania) and is concentrating on the issues of mental health services, juvenile indigent defense and racial and ethnic disparities in an additional 12. The dozen partner states are Maryland, Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina, California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Colorado, Ohio and Texas. The MacArthur Foundation has committed to spending up to $10 million over five years to support juvenile justice reforms in each of the four core states.

The six key areas Models for Change focuses on are Aftercare, Community-based Alternatives to Incarceration, Evidence-Proven Practices, Juvenile Indigent Defense, Mental Health and Racial/ethnic Fairness.

Aftercare involves post-release services, supervision and support that helps formerly incarcerated youth transition safely and successfully back into the community. Without quality aftercare, the estimated 100,000 youngsters leaving juvenile institutions each year face failure, recidivism and more incarceration. Sadly, quality aftercare is in short supply nationally.

Pennsylvania has selected aftercare as a targeted area of improvement and is working to connect youth with the programs and services they need to adjust and succeed after their residential treatment. The state is integrating treatment plans with aftercare plans to assist young people in overcoming problems, building on strengths and acquiring essential living skills. It is developing educational and employment programs to improve their life chances.

Most young people who violate the law do not need to be formally processed or held in custody. In fact, such measures often do serious damage by disrupting their bonds to their families and communities. Unfortunately, juvenile facilities are filled with low-level youth who could be safely and effectively managed in other settings. Confinement of low-level delinquents is costly for communities and doesn’t serve public safety.

Now more than ever, research is helping to establish approaches and programs that effectively change delinquent behavior, lower recidivism and help young people succeed. Rigorously studied evidence-based programs like Multisystemic Therapy and Family Functional Therapy have been found to produce consistently better results than traditional interventions. Research also supports other programs and services that show promise in improving behavior and emotional functioning. Sadly, many juvenile justice systems struggle to put these proven and scientifically supported approaches into practice.

Young people in trouble with the law have a right to legal counsel, but they often don’t get the timely or adequate representation they need. Many waive their constitutional right to counsel and accept plea offers without fully understanding their actions. Too often, even those who do have lawyers are inadequately represented, because of defenders’ high caseloads, inexperience and/or lack of training and resources. Statewide assessments of the juvenile indigent defense systems in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, and Washington have already been conducted, and technical assistance and training have been offered.
Recent research shows that up to 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system meet the criteria for at least one mental health disorder, such as major depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety conditions. Many of these youngsters land in the juvenile justice system because their conditions are unrecognized, community services aren’t available or systems aren’t coordinating effectively to put the right support in place. Unfortunately, young people with mental health problems often get worse when they are inappropriately treated or confined without support. Pennsylvania and Washington have chosen mental health as one of their targeted areas for improvement. The MacArthur-funded Partnership Resource Center in the mental health area will be the Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, based in Albany, NY.

Finally, youth of color are overrepresented at nearly every point of contact with the juvenile justice system—and this finding is disturbingly persistent over time. Youth of color are more likely to be incarcerated and to serve more time than white youth, even when charged with the same category of offense. Reducing disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system is a critical objective for all 16 core and partner Models for Change states.


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Decline in Number of Youths in Secure Detention and Residential Placement in 44 States is Reducing Cost and Recidivism

Black Down Arrow

Black Down Arrow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

National data show that 44 states have reduced the number of youth in residential placement and secure detention and are increasing community-based programs because they cost less, decrease reoffending and improve youth and family well-being.

A study authored by Kristen Staley and Michelle Weemhof, staffers at the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD), titled There’s No Place Like Home: Making the Case for Wise Investment in Juvenile Justice, declares:

Within the past decade, the state has transformed its juvenile justice system away from harsh, punitive treatment into one celebrated for innovation and effectiveness. Large, overcrowded public institutions have closed, and the responsibility of treating and placing delinquent youth was shifted away from the Michigan Department of Human Services and put onto the counties—a change most states are striving to achieve.

Michigan is among the states experiencing a decline in out-of-home placement, the report said. The state’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention estimates that, at its peak in 1997, Michigan sent 3,711 youth in residential placement, but as of 2011, the federal estimate hovered near 2,000 youth in placement

Michigan counties are focusing more on community-based options, like electronic monitoring and family therapies that treat youth while they stay at home.

Although the signs of progress are encouraging, the reconstruction of Michigan’s juvenile justice system is far from complete. Little statewide infrastructure exists to support counties as they implement and sustain their community-based models.

This systemic gap, coupled with Michigan’s recent economic downturn and drastic budget cuts, has begun to dismantle recent successes. Years of progressive reform are threatened, costs are driving up, and youth, their families and communities face increased risks if the system fails, the researchers say.

Youth treated with punitive, non-therapeutic programs are 70 to 80% more likely to be rearrested, and 60% of youth served out-of-home return to custody within three years of release.

In Michigan, community-based program costs range from $10 to $65 per day per youth, whereas out-of-home placement costs from $150 to $500 per day per youth.

Over the past three years, increased use of community-based programs, such as in Oakland County—has saved Michigan $33 million. Prioritizing community-based services can save an estimated $1.7 million to $2.3 million per child.

The study learned that 86% of families with youth in the juvenile justice system want to be more involved with their child’s treatment, but most experience barriers to participating when their children are placed out-of-home.

The Oakland County Youth Assistance group, which runs 26 county programs, conducted a study that found that 92% of its kids didn’t recidivate.

The OCYA’s chief, Mary Schusterbauer, found that despite county and local budget cuts:

The earlier you intervene, the better. Sometimes a shoplifter is not just a shoplifter, for example. Our whole mission is keeping kids out of the court system and into their own homes.

In neighboring Wayne County, which adopted the more localized system of juvenile justice and care in 2000, the MCCD study showed recidivism rates dropped from 56% in 1998 to 17.5% in 2012. The successes were also shown in other counties too, according to the study. The delinquency rate decreased 77% from 1998 to 2012 in Midland County and 38.5% in reoffense rates in Berrien County.

There are similar results in New York City, which has a population of more than 8 million, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year signed into law a program called Close to Home, aimed at keeping kids closer to their families instead of sending them to upstate detention facilities.

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Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling are Woefully Inadequate for Most Youths in Custody


Abused (Photo credit: Andrea Marutti)

The first national survey of kids aged 10-20 in state and local juvenile custody, the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement (SYRP), released in 2010, found that most of them had experienced trauma and suffered from one or more mental health or substance abuse problems, yet a majority of them (particularly those with the severest needs) received no counseling.

The report found that:

Thirty percent of confined young people had experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, 67 percent had seen someone killed or severely injured, and 70 percent reported that something bad or terrible had happened to them. Only 15 percent reported no trauma incidents in their past.

A large share of juveniles in custody reported behaviors that make it difficult to succeed in a conventional classroom, such as having a hard time paying attention in school (45 percent), having a hard time staying organized (40 percent), and being unable to stay in their seat (32 percent). Surprisingly, all three behaviors were reported at a higher rate by girls than by boys.

Anger problems were also rampant, with 68 percent reporting being easily upset, and 61 percent saying they lost their temper easily. Here, too, girls were more likely than boys to report problems.

Signs of more serious mental illness were also widespread. One in six confined youth suffered hallucinations, one fourth had elevated symptoms for depression, and substantial percentages reported: having suicidal thoughts (28 percent), feeling that life was not worth living (25 percent), or wishing they were dead (19 percent). Girls were far more likely than boys to report each of these symptoms. And, alarmingly, 44 percent of confined girls reported that they had attempted suicide, compared with 19 percent of confined boys.

Sixty-eight percent of confined children reported an alcohol or drug problem in the months preceding custody: 49 percent reported drinking many times per week or daily, and 64 percent reported taking drugs this frequently.

Despite these grave and widespread needs, only 53 percent of the 7,073 youngsters sampled in the SYRP report received any mental health counseling in their facilities, and only 51 percent got any substance abuse counseling. Youth with elevated symptoms for depression, anxiety, anger and hallucinations were less likely than kids with fewer symptoms to receive mental health counseling.

Moreover, 38 percent feared being physically abused in their facilities, 35 percent said staff used force against them when it wasn’t necessary, nearly half of them reported that staff in their facilities conducted strip searches, and one-fourth of the youth reported being held in solitary confinement.

A 2010 Justice Policy Institute research review on trauma-informed care for court-involved youth found that:

Confinement has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and the risk of abuse by staff or other youth can be traumatizing.

In particular, characteristics of correctional facilities such as seclusion, staff insensitivity or loss of privacy can exacerbate negative feelings created by previous victimization, especially among PTSD sufferers and girls. Youth in correctional facilities are frequently exposed to verbal and physical aggression, which can intensify fear or traumatic symptoms.

The survey also found that more than one-fourth of confined youth nationwide were held in facilities that did not routinely screen them for suicide risk, and more than half were in places that did not screen or assess all residents for mental health needs. In addition, suicide and mental health assessments were often completed by unqualified staff, and nearly 9 of every 10 confined youth nationwide resided in facilities that relied on unlicensed staff to deliver some or all counseling services.

Several organizations are today striving to rectify these problems.

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Building Blocks for Youth 

Findings from the First Ever National Survey of Juveniles in Custody 

Traumatic Pasts, Urgent Counseling Needs, Inadequate Services: Findings from the First Ever National Survey of Juveniles in Custody


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