Racial Disparities Persist After Years of Juvenile Justice Reform, Models for Change Leaders Say

WASHINGTON — James Bell, founder and president of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, told a gathering of juvenile justice reformers earlier this month that it was time to begin “an uncomfortable” conversation about racial disparities in the youth justice system.

He made the comments to Models for Change stakeholders gathered here to discuss the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s final evaluations of the $121 million juvenile justice reform initiative, which began in 2004. It ended as MacArthur changed its emphasis from reforming youth justice to jail reform.

The daylong meeting centered around the many success Models for Change helped bring about, from reducing incarceration sentences to influencing states to stop shackling youth in courts to raising the age at which teens are treated as adults in court.

[Laurie Garduque video | Accomplishments]

Bobbe Bridge, founder and president of Center for Children & Youth Justice in Washington state, said, “Models for Change was certainly the catalyst in accelerating reform. We have certainly changed the conversation.”

Yet, thanks in part to Models for Change support for data collection, it is apparent that racial disparities in the youth justice system, if anything, have gotten worse, not better.

A MacArthur-commissioned evaluation of Models for Change by Mathematica Policy Research found that disparity “persists, mostly at pre-Models for Change levels.” The Sentencing Project recently reported that in 2015 black male youth were five times more likely to be locked up than white youth.

[Laurie Garduque video | Racial disparities]

Speaking of the reforms, Bell said, “What we now know after 10 years of informed analysis is that all of those things have benefitted white kids and the racial disparities persist.”

In the past, he said, the reformers wanted “to get something rather than nothing” so the discussions that might have made decision-makers uncomfortable didn’t happen. Now, he says, “As we go into 2.0 of reform policy we are going to make people very uncomfortable to examine why the disparities still persist.”

Laurie Garduque, who led the Models for Change initiative at the MacArthur Foundation, said although the disparities rate has not improved, the harm done to youth in the system has been reduced for kids of color. “Fewer of them are being swept up in the system, more of them are being diverted and remain in the community, fewer are incarcerated; the incarceration rate has dropped dramatically, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent depending on the state,” she said.

Laurie Garduque

She added, “You are dealing with a host of economic, structural and political issues … you can’t expect the justice system to overcome. So there has to be an acknowledgement that we can make the system fairer and more just, but the deck is stacked against certain groups in such a way that it is very hard to make it equitable.”

The Mathematica evaluation reports that in states where Models for Change concentrated its effort:

  • “Significant paradigm shifts not only continued during Models for Change, they were propelled by it ...
  • “State and local stakeholders became more aware of the harms of detaining youth, particularly low risk youth, in out-of-home placements.
  • “The poor conditions that characterized confinement drew attention and litigation.
  • “Evidence mounted about the ill effects of formal involvement in the justice system.
  • “As these perspectives took shape, so did intentions to divert youth from pretrial detention and secure confinement and from the justice system entirely.
  • “As interest in diversion and serving youth in the community grew, evidence-based programs emerged as desirable alternatives to secure confinement and formal processing.“

Models for Change was not the only group influencing change. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) is active in seeking community-based alternatives to youthful incarceration.

Donald K. Ross of Malkin & Ross said his public policy firm, which worked for Models for Change, hired 56 different lobbying firms to work with states to help bring about reforms. For example, at the beginning of Models for Change in 2004 only 10 states forbade shackling of youth in courtrooms. Today there are 31 such states.

[Laurie Garduque video | Changes]

Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, said that when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that kids are different, it gave everyone the freedom to use the youth developmental language. Yet, “what we haven’t eliminated is a persistently punitive response to offending in this country that still infiltrates and drives our criminal justice system.”

[Laurie Garduque video | Language]

Garduque said the research the MacArthur Foundation helped underwrite established the legally relevant ways that kids are different from adults, which was made concrete by Supreme Court decisions. Now there is a reluctance to think of young people as the worst thing they have done and focus instead on the individual young person.

Marsha Levick

The field was forced to ask, she said, “How can we hold young people accountable for their transgressions in ways that recognize that they are not adults and doesn’t jeopardize their future life chances and gives them the skills and competencies to become successful adults?”

[Laurie Garduque video | Future]

What’s most gratifying for her is that “Those principles have been adopted and now seem to be secure and are the basis for another generation of law and policy reform where we are rolling back those harsh and punitive sanctions.”     

Leonard Witt is executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism, the publisher of the JJIE. The JJIE was a MacArthur Foundation Models for Change grantee.  

Hello. The national Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund like our work so much that they have agreed to match donations of up to $1,000 per person. They will spend up to $28,000 through the end of December.

So this would be an especially good time to donate to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Any money you give us up to $1,000 will be doubled.

Our independent journalism on the juvenile justice system takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we believe it’s crucial — and we think you agree.

Thanks for listening.

Contribute Now

MacArthur Surveys State Progress as Models for Change Winds Down

The adolescent development research that underlies the latest wave of juvenile justice reform should remain the foundation for future improvements, says a new report from the MacArthur Foundation.

As the foundation winds down its investment in juvenile justice reform this month, the report tracks how widely states have put developmentally appropriate policies in place.

MRchart-2The survey found every state has adopted at least one policy, such as limiting courtroom shackling or allowing an adult court transfer only at the court’s discretion. Though more work needs to be done, the states’ performance is a sign of “undeniable and widespread” progress, said the report.

[Related articleMacArthur Foundation Urges Major Changes in Juvenile Justice System]

Still, the authors cautioned that today’s reforms could be undermined by economic, cultural or practical considerations; crime rates rise and fall, demographics change, and program implementation can be uneven.

States and other reformers should therefore remain true to the principles of developmentally appropriate and evidence-based practices that have guided the foundation’s juvenile justice work for nearly 20 years, said Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform at the foundation.

The foundation began its work in a handful of states but now works in nearly every one through its programs and partnerships.

“We feel we’ve created a platform for continued progress,” Garduque said.

hub_arrow_2-01Since 1996, the foundation’s investments in juvenile justice research and practice have helped establish the widely accepted idea that adolescents are different than adults in areas such as culpability, competency and capacity for rehabilitation.

Garduque said leadership is critical to states’ progress but there is no ideal mix of conditions on the ground that jump-start reform.

“Regardless of a state’s starting point, you can make progress in juvenile justice reform,” she said.

The report looks at nine policies across five key areas: minimizing contact with the system, keeping youth in the appropriate justice system, protecting youth inside the courtroom, adopting developmentally appropriate confinement policies and removing obstacles to reintegration in the community.

In some cases, very few states have adopted the policies. South Dakota and Utah are the only states to allow transfer to adult court only for youth 16 and older. Pennsylvania and Delaware are the only two to set a time limit of four hours on each episode of solitary confinement.

On the other end of the spectrum, 42 states keep young people in juvenile court until age 18,  and 30 have a juvenile-specific competency statute.

Overall, the reforms have had positive effects on both individuals and society, according to the report.

“Because the reforms are embedded in developmental knowledge, young people are better able to reach their potential and become responsible members of society, decreasing recidivism and making communities safer and healthier — a range of positive returns that is both broad and deep,” the report said.


Models for Change — A Decade of Advancing Juvenile Justice

Temper Risk and Needs Assessments With Positive Youth Development

Report: Supreme Court Opinions Changing Juvenile Justice Landscape Beyond JLWOP

MacArthur Foundation Honors Final Group of Champions for Change

The MacArthur Foundation for the final time named four people as their Champions for Change within the Models for Change juvenile justice reform program.

The four are: Jason Szanyi, director of institutional reform at the Center for Children’s Law and Policy; Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter; Lisa J. Bjergaard, director, North Dakota Division of Juvenile Services, and, in a posthumous award, Dr. John Chapman of the Juvenile Court Clinic, Connecticut Judicial Branch.

For more information about the winners, go here.

Foundation Strives to Create Legacy for Juvenile Justice Reform

Models for Change 2012 Annual Conference

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.

University of California at Santa Barbara professor Richard Ross exhibited a collection

Keynote speaker Cheryl Corley of NPR.

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.

More than a dozen people sat down to record short videos of their experiences within the juvenile justice system at a video booth. The videos are up on the JJIE website.

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.

Julia Stasch, VP, MacArthur Foundation and Marlene Beckman, Counsel to Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

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. 

Foundation Honors Champions of Juvenile Justice Reform

Starcia Ague

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Arrested and convicted as a teenager, Starcia Marie Ague made a decision to escape her present and her troubled past by focusing on her education. She finished high school and began taking college courses while still incarcerated. Upon her release, she completed an associate’s degree at a community college in Spokane, Wash., and went on to graduate from Washington State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2010.

This afternoon, Ague, who once spent six years in secure juvenile facilities, became the youngest person honored as a Champion for Change by the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation, an award reserved for people who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the way things work in the juvenile justice system and who have creatively used the resources provided by the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative to push for system reform.

Six other people received the awards, announced today at the 7th annual Models for Change national conference in Washington, D.C. They are Lisa M. Garry of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services; Laura Cohen of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark; Gene Griffin of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Arthur D. Bishop of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice; Sharon Guy Hornsby of Northshore Technical Community College, Florida Parishes Campus; and George D. Mosee Jr. of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Juvenile Division.

While still an undergraduate student, Ague began to work on improving protocols for keeping records in schools and courts, and for interviewing children and their guardians. She now works for the University of Washington, offering her expertise on matters of juvenile indigent defense and working to reform the way juvenile offender records are accessed by the public.

Ague choked up when describing why she continues to represent the interests of at-risk youth in her state.

“I have chosen to do youth advocacy work both to help myself overcome my past and also to help others in comparable situations who are striving to overcome” obstacles, Ague said while accepting her award.

Through her tears, she called upon conference attendees to face “the tragedy of redeemable lives that are lost in our punitive juvenile justice system.”

“Kids who made bad mistakes should not have to pay the price for those mistakes repeatedly,” Ague said.

VIDEO: Voices of Advocates at the Models for Change Conference

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange is at the 2012 annual Models for Change conference, a conference geared toward supporting a network of policy makers, government and court officials, advocates, educators, community leaders and families cooperating together in an effort to ensure that "kids who make mistakes are held accountable and treated fairly throughout the juvenile justice process."

JJIE had the opportunity to catch up with several different officials from varying organizations about their goals and thoughts on the subject of juvenile justice. Continue checking in for ongoing updates.

[Friday 12/7/12] [4:19 p.m.]

Jessica Sandoval, Director of National Field Operations at the Campaign for Youth Justice, talks about how her organization got its start and where its going in the future.

[12:43 p.m.]

Rhonda McKitten, Director of Training and Senior Trial Attorney of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, shares a story about a teen who was positively impacted by one of her programs.

[Thursday 12/6/12] 

[2:14 p.m.]

Nancy Gannon Hornberger, Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, shares an anecdote about a young person whose circumstances led to her being harshly charged in criminal court.

[11:41 a.m.]

Executive Director of the John Howard Association, John Maki, talks about the best ways to dispel myths about what it's like inside prison, in order to affect change. 

[10:47 a.m.]

Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, describes his belief in raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18.

[9:17 a.m.]

Jason Ziedenberg, Research and Policy Consultant, talks large scale juvenile justice reform. 

[9:33 a.m.]

Mike Griffiths, Executive director of the Texas Department of Juvenile Justice, shares improvements that have been made in his area. 

[4:11 p.m.]

Bonnie Glenn, Director of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration Community Programs and Parole Programs for Washington State, shares the joys of her job and talks about young people who have traversed the system who now give back in an effort to help juvenile offenders currently dealing with the system.

[2:49 p.m.]

Julia Biehl, Director of Children and Family Justice Center at NorthWestern Law School, shares three things she wants continued work on in her field. 

[11:06 a.m.]

Ben Roe, Ogle County State Court Attorney, shares
an anecdote about a juvenile offender who turned his life around.

[9:37 a.m.]

Victim Services Director Gretchen Casey expresses her desire for juvenile justice workers to continue to work to get better. 

[Monday 12/3/12]

Retired Illinois Judge George Timberlake talks about the
strides his state has made to improve how juvenile offenders are handled.

Starcia Ague, Research Coordinator at the University of Washington's Division of Public Behavior and Health Injustice Policy, talks about the rewards of her job and the type of kids she works with. 



Simple, Pre-written Language Reduces Confusion for Youth in Juvenile Court

On Nov. 7, the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) will hold a webinar focusing on the new Models For Change publication “Washington Judicial Colloquies Project: A Guide for Improving Communication and Understanding in Court.”

The guide, published by Washington State NJJN member TeamChild, offers advice on how professionals can better explain and describe the legal language used in court proceedings to young people.

Working with the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network, TeamChild created a guide that suggests “colloquies,” pre-written language for judges and attorneys to use during young people’s first court appearances and further disposition hearings. The language is written at a 6th grade-level and designed to be easily understood by juveniles. In fact, according to the the guide, effective use of colloquies sometimes increased young people’s understanding of release and probation conditions from one third to 90 percent after hearings.

Presenting at the webinar will be TeamChild research associate and former University of Michigan sociology professor Rosa Peralta, who will discuss several of the recommended colloquies and later field questions from Webinar attendees.

The free event is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EST. To view the webinar, attendees are required to register here.

‘Models for Change’ Series Available Online

A series of eight reports that summarize effective strategies to improve services and treatment of juveniles in the justice system is now available through the Models for Change Research Initiative website.

At a time of tight federal, state and local budgets, the aim of the “Knowledge Briefs” series is to share pioneering strategies that communities can study and possibly duplicate within their own juvenile systems. Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which has spent some $100 million on juvenile justice reform efforts since 2004, the series outlines inventive approaches adopted by different states to cost-effectively improve the outlook for young people leaving the justice system and re-entering society.

The series includes a study that examined whether young people at three sites in Louisiana and Washington state were treated differently in probation if they belonged to a minority race or ethnic group, and a cost-benefit analysis from a juvenile center in Cook County, Ill., that could serve as an example of how to determine whether certain reforms are worth the money.

Although the reports were published last December, the MacArthur Foundation announced their release as a series a couple of weeks ago, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the U.S. Department of Justice promoted their availability in an email to its news subscribers yesterday.

In January, the OJJDP announced a $2 million partnership with the MacArthur Foundation to support key reforms in the juvenile justice system. One aspect of the partnership involves federal help in “disseminating knowledge and innovations that have emerged” from the Models for Change initiative, explained Andrew Solomon, a spokesman for the MacArthur Foundation.

The $2 million – funded in equal part by the foundation and by the OJJDP – is going to four organizations over two years. These organizations, which include the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, will offer technical assistance and training to state and local governments in four critical areas: improving mental health screenings and risk and needs assessments for juveniles in the system; providing training for juvenile detention and corrections staff to deal with the mental health needs of juveniles; reducing ethnic and racial disparities within the juvenile justice system; and better coordinating the services offered to youth by the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

All four organizations funded by the partnership have previously worked on the Models for Change initiative by developing, implementing and evaluating best-practice blueprints for reforms in juvenile justice.