WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nonprofit MacArthur Foundation has spent more than $100 million since 2004 on developing blueprints for reform within the juvenile justice systems of 16 states. Earlier this week, its reform initiative, Models for Change, brought together nearly 400 judges, advocates, probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals for two days of workshops in Washington, D.C.
It was the seventh such yearly gathering for Models for Change partners, and it came at a time when the foundation is beginning to wind down funding for new research into juvenile justice reforms and enter a new phase focused on defining, sustaining and disseminating to the rest of the country the reform models its state partners and networks have already developed.
As the foundation moves toward solidifying the legacy of its blueprint initiative, its conference this year emphasized the power of storytelling and collaboration as a way to convey the impact of justice reforms to other states and to the public.
The storytelling theme ran through several events over the two-day event. Public relations professionals held a plenary session to discuss how juvenile justice organizations could craft an effective public message.
of photographs that illustrated the stark conditions within juvenile facilities around the country. Journalists from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and CBS This Morning held a hands-on workshop to explain how justice professionals could engage the media without compromising the privacy of minors. And NPR reporter Cheryl Corley gave a keynote address explaining how she came to report a radio series on juvenile offenders in Chicago last year.
Another conference theme emerged around fostering collaboration: training attendees to recognize the multiple ways individuals, agencies and local governments can work together to improve the treatment of children in the justice system. Workshops addressed ways to involve families of juvenile offenders more closely with their child’s treatment; encourage state agencies to seek common goals with watchdog organizations; get court and child welfare agencies to share data more effectively; and build relationships between public defender offices and local law schools.
Plenary speakers encouraged cash-strapped public entities to partner with private organizations and foundations as a way to grow their resources and further their reach in replicating and sustaining reform models throughout the country.
Collaborative efforts by private foundations like MacArthur are motivating the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to develop its own partnerships with private philanthropic entities, said Marlene Beckman, the counsel to the assistant attorney general at the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, at a conference panel.
Federal officials recently met with a group of philanthropic organizations to solicit guidance on how to work with the private sector, Beckman said. The Obama administration was very interested in such partnerships, she said.
Among the feedback the federal juvenile justice office received from philanthropic groups at that meeting was that federal agencies needed to collaborate more closely with each other – between the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Health and Human Services, for example – and present a united leadership front when seeking partners from the private sector, Beckman said.
The group also advised the federal office of juvenile justice that it needed to communicate more effectively with private partners so that everyone understands their priorities and goals, and shares a vision for desired outcomes, Beckman said.
“Up until now, we have been more the follower than the leader,” Beckman said of the federal office’s role in developing public-private partnerships in pursuit of justice reforms.
Editor's note: The MacArthur Foundation supports the work of JJIE.
Photos courtesy of Models for Change.
In Atlanta the prison dining room was glass-walled. We could sit there eating our meals and see up and down the sidewalk. Directly across the way was D-Building. When the doors to that dorm opened up a strange group of men would exit. They would seem to be in a hurry, but unable to coordinate their movements. Their heads would hang down and half expressions would ripple across their faces. They would run their hands over their heads over and over, and open and close their mouths while sticking their thick tongues out. Their gait was particularly peculiar, with stiff legs dragging their feet along, all the while seeming about to topple. We called this the “thorazine shuffle."
Later, I learned that it was something called tardive dyskinsesia, and was in fact a side effect of the medicines. Often the doses given to them were excessive, more for the purposes of control than for treatment, and they suffered the consequences in their bodies and minds.
At first, in the 80s, my encounters with these men were infrequent. As time went on though, and as mental treatment options were cut by the government, I began to meet more and more of them. Before I left, in 2009, some prisons were almost exclusively made up of inmates with mental health issues. The prisons, through government policy, had become the option of choice for the mentally ill, and mental illness itself had become de facto criminalized.
Last year a joint report by the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center, entitled More Mentally Ill Persons Are In Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals–A Survey of the States, found that there are three times more mentally ill people in prisons and jails than in mental hospitals. The situation in juvenile facilities is similar. An AP story from this year says that 52 percent of juvenile inmates have some form of mental illness. In Florida, as reported by the Palm Beach Post, juvenile authorities have come under harsh criticism for the overuse of strong antipsychotic drugs, and youth prison doctors have been accused of taking large payouts from drug companies to prescribe their products. Time reported last year that pharmaceutical companies had paid out the largest settlement in U.S. history, including the largest criminal fines, for pushing over-prescription to vulnerable populations, including kids in detention.
A March 8, press release from the MacArthur Foundation and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) gives cause for some hope. The groups are, “collaborating on a $1 million effort targeting the behavioral health needs of youth in contact with the juvenile justice system.” According to these groups 60 to 70 percent of incarcerated juveniles meet the criteria for a mental health disorder, and 60 percent qualify for a substance abuse disorder. Thirty percent are thought to be so severely disabled that their “ability to function” is “highly impaired.”
SAMHSA’s Policy Academy Mechanism and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Action Network will collaborate to bring support to eight states, selected competitively, that are seeking to improve policies and practices that will better serve communities and youth. Their goals include reducing the over representation of minority youth in the juvenile system, incorporating better screening practices throughout the system, and recognizing “the role of evidence based practice, treatment, and trauma informed services.” The National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice at Policy Research Associates and the Technical Assistance Collaborative will administer the projects.
Maybe society can finally begin to reverse the trend of criminalized mental illness that has taken root in the last few decades.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have teamed up for a new $1 million project to divert youth with behavioral health conditions away from the juvenile justice system and into community-based programs and services.
According to SAMHSA, 60-70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental disorder and more than 60 percent suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Many of these youth, SAMHSA says, wind up in the juvenile justice system rather than receiving treatment for their underlying disorders.
Up to eight states will be selected competitively to participate in the new collaborative initiative. If selected, states would receive support to develop and initiate policies and programs to divert youth away from the juvenile justice system early.
"This innovative effort will help ensure that fewer at- risk young people fall through the cracks and into an overburdened juvenile justice system that is very often unable to address their underlying behavioral health problems," SAMHSA Administrator Pam Hyde said in a press release. "This initiative focuses on helping divert these youth whenever possible to community-based behavioral health services that can actually turn their lives around for the better."
The program will combine SAMHSA’s Policy Academy initiative and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Action Network and will emphasize reducing the overrepresentation of youth of color with mental and/or substance use disorders in the juvenile justice system while incorporating mental, substance use and co-occurring screening and assessment practices throughout the juvenile justice system recognizing the important roles of evidence-based practice, treatment, and trauma-informed services.
The National Center for Mental Health, Juvenile Justice at Policy Research Associates, Inc. and the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc. have agreed to coordinate the proposed initiative.
“The states selected will have access to leading experts in the field and the latest research and information on front-end diversion policies and programs for youth with co-occurring disorders,” said Laurie Garduque, Director of Justice Reform for the MacArthur Foundation. “With the seamless integration of SAMHSA’s and MacArthur’s demonstrated strategies for effective training and technical assistance, we will promote broader diffusion and new adaptations of models of best practices to states committed to systems reform.”
Reading comments from readers on news stories about youth in trouble, you'd think the juvenile justice sysem was a system designed to mollycoddle dangerous kids, turning them into super-predators.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Among other reasons, we know this because of "Pathways to Desistance," a research study led by Edward P. Mulvey, Director of the Law and Psychiatry Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. (Dr. Mulvey and Carol Schubert contributed a post to us on their findings in April 2010.)
The "Pathways to Desistance" research study is a unique study of what works in the juvenile justice system. This large, multi-site research project followed 1,354 serious juvenile offenders for seven years. An informative brief on the study findings was released in 2009 by the MacArthur Foundation; now, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has released another fact sheet, titled, "Highlights From Pathways to Desistance: A Longitudinal Study of Serious Adolescent Offenders."
Here's what the study found:
- Most youth quit or reduce their offending over time. Only 8.5 percent of the youth in the study persisted at high levels of offending. As Dr. Mulvey explains in the OJJDP fact sheet,
"Two factors that appear to distinguish high-end desisters from persisters are lower levels of substance use and greater stability in their daily routines, as measured by stability in living arrangements and work and school attendance."
- Providing services and sanctions based on individual need -- factors including substance abuse, mental health needs, family background -- could be more effective than providing them based on severity of the crime and prior convictions. Surprisingly, the researchers found that the youth who persisted in offending and those who reduced their offending behavior got about the same kind and intensity of services.
- In a related finding, the study found that incarceration did not reduce offending. In fact, for the subgroup of serious juvenile offenders who greatly reduced their offending after contact with the justice system -- who spent about 30 percent of the study followup period in institutional care -- incarceration actually increased their offending to a small, but statistically signifcant degree.
If locking them up didn't help, what did? Community-based services and probation supervision. As Dr. Mulvey writes,
"Youth who received community-based supervision and aftercare services were more likely to attend school, go to work, and avoid further offending during the 6 months after release, and longer supervision periods increased these benefits."
- For many of these youth -- those meeting their definition of "serious juvenile offenders" -- substance abuse treatment is key, as the MacArthur Foundation brief makes clear:
"Levels of substance use and associated problems are very high in these young offenders. More than one-third qualify for a diagnosis of substance use disorder in the year prior to the baseline interview, and over 80 percent report having used drugs or alcohol during the previous six months. Moreover, the level of substance use walks in lockstep with illegal activity over the follow-up period: more substance use, more criminal offending."
Treating youth for at least 90 days, with their family members involved, cut both their substance abuse and their offending, at least during the six months after treatment. (Tellingly, the sub-study this conclusion was based on, "Substance use treatment outcomes in a sample of male serious juvenile offenders," which appeared in 2009 in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, found that only 25% of the serious juvenile offenders in its sample received treatment that included family members. The study authors speculated that this might be partly because these offenders were being treated in secure institutional environments, rather than the community.)
In an age when every state is trying to find money to fund juvenile justice services, policy makers should be turning to this research to help them guide funding to what works in juvenile justice.
The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.