Tag Archive for reform

“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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Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms Save Public Money and Make Secure Facilities Safer

texas our texas

texas our texas (Photo credit: jmtimages)

Nearly 100,000 children are caught up in Texas’s juvenile justice system each year—many of them suffering from severe trauma, substance abuse and mental health problems. While an increasing number of youth are being diverted to community-based supervision and treatment programs, others continue to be housed in county or state secure facilities.

These institutions are too large and too remote, resulting in staffing problems, low family involvement, high youth-on-youth violence and ineffective rehabilitation. And although county facilities are able to keep youth closer to family and community resources, research shows that for most youth, time spent in any secure facility harms rehabilitation. What’s worse, some kids as young as 14 are still sent to adult facilities.

In recent years, Texas legislators and policymakers have adopted reforms in the criminal justice system that move away from the expensive, marginally effective “lock-‘em-all-up” approach to punishment, toward a more sophisticated, effective one. State juvenile facilities used to be little more than preparatory academies for crime, but that is now changing.

Since shocking revelations in 2007 about mistreatment and sexual abuse of youthful offenders by the staff of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), reforms been implemented that have made juveniles in state secure facilities safer and have reduced the institutions’ average daily population down from 3,642 in 2006 to only 1,221 in 2011.

Jim Hurley, spokesman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (formerly known as the TYC) reports:

Once insular and defensive, the agency appears now much more willing to listen to outside advice and opinions. The state has provided more training since juvenile justice reforms were implemented and the number and rate of youth-on-youth assaults has decreased at state secure facilities.

A recent survey of 115 detainees at the Giddings State School found that “youthful offenders feel safe and hopeful about their futures.” The interviewees called for even more training for detention facilities staff and moving kids from remote locations so as to enable greater family involvement.

Benet Magnuson, a policy attorney with the Youth Justice Project, explains:

The state is on the right track to keeping juvenile offenders closer to their homes. When kids are in their community and the county has invested in local programs, you’re going to see better outcomes in terms of safety, family involvement, rehabilitation and treatment.

According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, county-run secure facilities need grant funds, technical assistance, accountability standards and oversight to develop and effectively implement best practices to strengthen their diversion and treatment infrastructure. The Coalition stresses that all programming and services for juveniles must be age-appropriate and emphasize their unique needs.

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Justice Reinvestment in Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, at campaign e...

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, at campaign event for presidential candidate John McCain in Kenner, Louisiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something has to change in Louisiana, and if Bobby Jindal lives up to his latest press release it just might. It seems that some extensive changes may be coming to Louisiana’s justice system, particularly as pertains to juveniles.

First, for context, it should be established that my home state leads the planet in incarceration, with inmate populations doubling over the period between 1991 and 2012. Amnesty International reports the current number of incarcerated to be right around 40,500 which makes Louisiana’s incarceration rate the highest in the world.

An Amnesty International statement from 2008 spelled it out, and population numbers have done nothing but rise since then.

“…As of December 31, 2007, nearly 2.3 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, giving the United States the largest incarcerated population in the world. Within the US, Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration, nearly five times that of the lowest state, Maine.”

State Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal has frequently come under fire for his aggressive privatization of Louisiana’s jails and prisons so it is surprising to see his latest stance on fixing a juvenile system that is rightly and frequently termed horrific. It is a stance that we here at HE espouse, and it is our hope that it gets implemented.

So, what changes are in the offing, and what response are they getting in Louisiana? The Advocate reports:

Several lawmakers, who often differ with Jindal, praised his proposals, including state Rep. Patricia Smith and state Sen. Sharon Broome, both Baton Rouge Democrats.

‘I want to thank the governor for putting treatment as a priority,’ Smith said.

Others who endorsed the changes included Debra DePrato, director at the Institute for Public Health and Justice at the LSU Health Sciences Center, and Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project.

The plans will be included in bills submitted to the Legislature, which begins its regular session on April 8.

Jindal wants to:

  • Expand what he called Louisiana’s highly successful drug courts beyond the current 48 programs statewide.
  • Release certain non-sex, non-violent drug offenders into treatment rather than continued incarceration.
  • Revamp a state program that he said has strayed from its mission of aiding at-risk youths.

So, in an instance that I find shocking, Louisiana politicians are getting behind the right course despite differences in party affiliation. Blue Dogs, Dixiecrats, conservatives and liberals in this most contentious of states are unifying on this subject. As a native, trust me when I say that if it can happen here it can happen anywhere in the US.

The bills to enact these changes will hit the floor in early April, so it is a little early for cheering, but just the attempt is a major step forward. Louisiana is infamous for its draconian and primitive approach to incarceration, inspired by the gaols of the French no doubt. To see a more fact-based and rehabilitation-oriented mindset become part of the process is amazing.

The part of Jindal’s plan aimed directly at juvenile justice concerns a program called FINS – Families in Need of Services. Described as a “pre-delinquency intervention” program, it was originally designed to connect with services for at-risk youth in an attempt to keep them out of the court and prison system.

According to the Juvenile Justice Implementation System, more than 11,000 youngsters between the ages of 10 and 17 were referred to them in 2010. These referrals are made by parents, teachers or law enforcement and can be for anything from truancy or running away on one end of the spectrum to criminal behavior, drug, alcohol or firearm possession on the other. The fact that these referrals are often abused makes more sense when you know that the letter of the law includes being “ungovernable” as a valid reason for them.

NOLA.com reports.


‘FINS has strayed from its mission of addressing the root causes of non-delinquent behavior, instead advancing at-risk youth through the traditional court system and further into the juvenile justice system,’ the press release said. ‘The result has been a higher juvenile incarceration rate, not less criminal behavior.’

State Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said she was ‘pleased’ with the proposal, adding, ‘We have what we call a “cradle-to-prison-pipeline.” Trying to catch juveniles before they enter into the prison system is tantamount to being able to reduce the adult prison population.’

This is big. I don’t just say that as a New Orleans native either. If Louisiana politicians can come together across party lines to enact programs like that here, then there is hope for bipartisan collaboration in other areas of the country. As our own political class is slowly realizing, it is vastly more expensive to do nothing!

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