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. 




Report: Does Transferring Kids to Adult Court Deter Future Offenses?

Tuesday, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released “Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court: Effects of a Broad Policy in One Court,” a new bulletin culling data from the Pathways to Desistance Study.

The longitudinal report examined outcomes for juveniles transferred to adult courts in Maricopa County, Ariz., with the authors concluding that 77 percent of young people that returned to their community after being sent to adult facilities reengaged in at least some level of “antisocial activity,” with approximately two-thirds eventually arrested or placed in an “institutional setting.”

“Adolescents in the adult system may be at risk for disruptions in their personal development, identity formation, relationships, learning, growth in skills and competencies and positive movement into adult status,” the report’s authors wrote.

Researchers said transferring young people to adult courts might have a “differential” effect, with some juveniles becoming likelier to offend again, depending on the young person’s presenting offense and previous offense history. Researchers state that adolescent offenders transferred to adult courts, without any prior petitions, were much likelier to be re-arrested than young people that remained in the juvenile justice system.

“Most of the youth in the study who were sent to adult facilities returned to the community within a few years, varying widely in their levels of adjustment,” the report says. “Youth were more likely to successfully adjust when they were not influenced by antisocial peers.”

Additionally, researchers say that adolescents are also at an elevated risk of being physically or sexually attacked while housed at adult facilities. Despite representing a meager proportion of total inmates in the nation’s adult prison system, analysts estimate that 21 percent of all victims of substantiated incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in 2005 were under the age of 18.

While transferring juveniles with serious violent offenses to adult courts “seemed to have its intended effect,” the report noted that adult court transfers had a detrimental effect regarding juveniles with serious property offenses.

“These analyses provide clear evidence that certain case characteristics, most notably type of offense and prior history, are differentially related to outcomes among transferred adolescents,” the researchers concluded.

Photo from the OJJDP‘s “Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court: Effects of a Broad Policy in One Court.”




“Crossover Youth”: The Intersection of Child Welfare & Juvenile Justice

Crossover youth is more than the latest buzzword in the often jargon-filled lexicon of juvenile justice. Instead, the term reflects a growing understanding of the dynamic between child abuse, neglect and delinquency. This population of young people has contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Addressing child welfare is challenging enough, let alone when joined with deeper problems of delinquency. Abused young people often carry scars of trauma and pain, which can inform delinquent behavior that leads to subsequent contact with the juvenile justice system. However, the complex challenges and needs of crossover youth often prove too much for each system alone to address. Practitioners must find a reasonable solution that ameliorates these issues or crossover youth may re-enter the child welfare system or go on to commit more serious offenses. Instead, an integrated approach, which builds on each system’s unique strength, is the ideal approach.

Who are these young people?

The exact number is unknown, given the absence of rigorous data collection, although estimates range from 9 percent to 29 percent of those in the child welfare system. A recent webinar, by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), detailed how a majority of these young people suffer from wide-ranging challenges, which include education difficulties, mental health issues and sexual abuse.

Another major contributing factor is that many suffer from placement instability. A recent study of dually involved youth in LA County found that 55 percent had been relocated between group homes and foster care placements three or more times during their lifetimes.

Why do crossover youth matter?

The crossover population represents a unique challenge for both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. A 2001 study by the Vera Institute of Justice found the likelihood of detention for foster youth awaiting trial for misdemeanors or minor felonies was 10 percent higher than non-foster care youth. Moreover, they frequently suffer amid a compartmentalization of system care and oversight. For example, juveniles who make contact with the justice system may lose access to welfare services and their respective case manager, resulting in a disruption to their therapeutic services.

The long-term consequences for crossover youth are significant with many suffering higher incidence of drug use and exacerbated mental illness. The aforementioned study of LA County also found that crossover youth have a higher recidivism rate than non-crossover youth, and more than 30 percent have new maltreatment referrals following their arrest. These young people may not only commit offenses as adults, but may well perpetuate the cycle of maltreatment as parents.

What can be done?

Fortunately, juvenile justice professionals are increasingly recognizing the unique situation of crossover youth and are developing system tools sensitive to the specifics of their problem. Law enforcement officials, judges, and child welfare practitioners are beginning to collaborate on how to best meet the needs of this unique population early enough to offset the substantial human and fiscal cost. In addition, reform-minded foundations and non-profits have initiated pilot technical assistance programs across the country, in the hopes of creating replicable best practices. The recent OJDDP webinar featured speakers advocating for multi-disciplinary teams to bridge the system-wide gap, an approach shared by others.

For example, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, at Georgetown University, developed The Crossover Youth Practice Model, which is currently used at 11 jurisdictions across the country. A central feature of the model is to encourage multi-agency collaboration across the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Such coordinated case management and supervision fosters family engagement and youth permanency. This directly addresses the instability that leads many young people from the child welfare system to the juvenile justice system. In California, the Sierra Health Foundation, through their Positive Youth Justice Initiative, has also taken a lead in fostering county-level innovation to address this issue.

In the complicated world of juvenile justice, there is not always a clear distinction between young people in the child welfare system and those in the juvenile justice system. Abused and neglected young people come into contact with the justice system due to any number of contributing factors.  For each system to work best, they must first understand whom crossover youth are and develop necessary treatment and support models. This requires child welfare and juvenile justice departments to collaborate on best practices, streamlined case management and more effective data collection.

Such partnerships bring a sense of stability and continuity of care that crossover youth so often lack. Moreover, this represents a promising development in juvenile justice, where youth are recognized for their potential to succeed beyond a history of neglect and abuse.

Brian Goldstein is a member of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ)‘s policy team and a Masters graduate in political science from San Francisco State University.  His expertise is on political trends in criminal justice reform.




‘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.




Juvenile Hall is Often No Place for Kids

DURHAM, N.C. — The local detention center where my juvenile clients are held while their cases are pending is called the “Youth Home.” The irony of the label is never lost on me, as the contrast between the name and the reality could hardly be starker.

The rundown building is surrounded by barbed wire. Inside, kids sleep in narrow locked cells, no different from what you’d find in an adult jail. They are subjected to strip searches and attend an hour or two of “school” in a crowded room filled with a random selection of books.

Juveniles are detained here for a variety of reasons. Some have been deemed dangerous to the community as a result of past or current criminal charges. Others are runaways or throwaways whose parents say they have no other options. A good number are drug addicted or mentally ill children who are awaiting placement in treatment centers. Many are caught up in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, without family to support their release.

In speaking with kids over the years about their detention experiences, I mostly am told how boring it is and how lonely and sad they become. Some talk about having to learn to fight – or at least act like they could win a fight – in order to get by. And these are the good days.

Yet, in the scheme of things, conditions here are relatively benign.

Across the United States, juvenile detention facilities have come under increasing scrutiny. In Polk County, Fla., where youth are held in a wing of the county jail, allegations of mistreatment include the use of pepper spray and other chemical agents by guards. The Southern Poverty Law Center has initiated a class action lawsuit against Polk, with a trial set for May. At other facilities, there are reports of overcrowding, inadequate medical care and sexual predators.

According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), more than 30,000 young people are confined in short-term detention facilities annually. Of the approximately 730 facilities, county, city, or municipal employees staff the vast majority. In 2008, 42 percent reported using mechanical restraints (i.e., handcuffs, leg cuffs, waist bands, leather straps, restraining chairs, strait jackets, or other mechanical devices) in the previous month, and 45 percent locked youth alone in some type of seclusion. While the overall population of juveniles in custody is declining each year, the numbers and the conditions of confinement are sobering.

Repeated studies have demonstrated that locking up young people has little impact on recidivism rates and that ultimately it is harmful to the individual as well as the community. Research has shown that neither the type of offense nor the length of the sentence is an accurate predictor of whether a juvenile will reoffend. In fact, there is no significant difference between the rearrest rate for offenders who served probation versus those who were committed.

So, what is the alternative? Suspend the practice of reflexively placing young offenders in detention settings for both the short and long-term, whether for punitive or treatment-related purposes. In most cases, use community-based services, wraparound therapy for families, and outpatient treatment instead of removing adolescents from their homes and families. For those young people with no other options, turn our juvenile detention facilities and “training schools” into centers of rehabilitation that offer psychological treatment, vocational training and quality education.

We don’t have to look far to find examples that work. Consider the Regional Youth Center in Waverly, Mo., or the New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Washington, D.C. These facilities have colorful dormitories and counselors who give hugs instead of concrete cellblocks and armed guards. They provide daily group therapy and a full day of academics instead of boot camps and solitary confinement. And they cost less to operate than traditional models, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars.

Just imagine if the Durham Youth Home were transformed. The razor wire would be removed, the cell walls taken down, and at-risk children and teens would be provided with support, services and education in a positive, affirming environment. Now that would be a place worthy of its name.

Professor Birckhead’s commentary is also posted at the Huffington Post




Sexual Trauma Marks Girls’ Path to Juvenile Justice System

Crystal Contreras, who served five years in a juvenile justice facility in California, is now studying sociology in college and volunteering with foster kids.

When Crystal Contreras was seven and living in Los Angeles, her mother put her in the care of someone Contreras saw as a father figure. Instead, he pressured the little girl for sex. For the next three years, until she was 10, the man raped her regularly, often creeping into the house at night without her mother’s knowledge.

“I never said nothing to my mom,” Contreras told JJIE.org during an interview in July. “I was scared he would kill her or hurt her or hurt the animals that I had. I felt like I was protecting her. But what I did – I started acting out.”

Contreras, now 21 and in college, completed a five-year term at a juvenile detention facility in California last year, she said. Her history of sexual trauma echoes the stories of tens of thousands of girls who find themselves in the juvenile justice system, a history that advocates and professionals in the field say the states and federal government must take into account when designing rehabilitation programs to meet girls’ needs.

While the number of girls who had contact with the juvenile justice system in 2010 equaled only about 40 percent of the number of boys, girls are more likely to be detained for minor offenses related to their underage status, like truancy or running away, according to a report released Tuesday by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy. Less than 10 percent of juvenile arrests for violent crimes involved girls, the report said.

“Overall, the juvenile justice system is ill-equipped to serve girls effectively, having failed to implement the reforms called for by a growing body of research on the needs of the girls in its care,” said the report, “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States.”

Malika Saar, executive director of the Human Rights Project for Girls, told an interagency gathering of federal officials in Washington, D.C., last month that the so-called school-to-prison pipeline applies mainly to boys. For girls, Saar said, the biggest funnel into the prison system is sexual abuse.

Liz Watson, a co-author of the Georgetown report, echoed Saar’s description.

“What really stands out about girls’ particular pathway into the system is that very often, the girls are in the system for things like running away and truancy, and sometimes, being picked up for prostitution, which is really exploitation for these girls,” Watson said. “So the reasons they get into the system are gender bias and exploitation and abuse.”

To add insult to injury, she said, “Once they’re there, girls have harsher penalties than boys for status offenses.”

Acting Asst. Attorney General Mary Lou Leary (left) and Acting Administrator of the OJJDP Melodee Hanes (second to left) listen to testimony from formerly incarcerated women and their advocates about the experience of girls in the juvenile justice system during the quarterly meeting of the federal interagency Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention last month.

Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, 23, testified about her detention experiences in California and Nevada before a federal interagency committee, the Coordinating Council of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in Washington, D.C., in September.

The council, an independent body created under the authority of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, meets quarterly to coordinate the program efforts of federal government agencies. It includes cabinet members from the departments of Labor, Health, Housing and Urban Development, Education and Homeland Security.

Last month marked the first time since 2000 that the council had met to discuss the issue of girls in the juvenile justice system. The meeting 12 years ago led the U.S. Department of Justice to create the National Girls Study Group, a multi-year research effort into strategies for keeping girls from entering the system, Melodee Hanes, the acting administrator for Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, told the council.

Another outcome of the 2000 meeting was the creation of the National Girls Institute within the federal juvenile justice office in the U.S. Department of Justice, a clearinghouse for research and technical assistance, Hanes said. The institute recently released its own findings from a series of national “listening sessions” with girls in the system, their families and other stakeholders.

Although most cabinet-level members were not present at September’s meeting, their agency representatives listened intently as field professionals and women who had been incarcerated as girls testified about their experiences with the system.

Pettigrew told the council she was trafficked as a minor, coerced into sex and kept captive.

“I was sent to the juvenile justice system for a crime that technically, according to the law, I did not have the ability or consent to commit,” Pettigrew said. “I was a victim of child abuse but I was the one put behind bars.”

Watson calls girls like Pettigrew and Contreras “the walking wounded” who are often re-traumatized in detention. Despite her history of sexual abuse, Pettigrew found herself in a facility with no doors on the showers or the toilets, and male staff members to watch the girls. The lack of doors in showers and toilets comes up regularly in descriptions of facilities by advocates and girls.

Withelma Ortiz Walker Pettigrew (center) speaking about her experience in the juvenile justice system in front of the federal interagency Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Washington D.C. last month. She hopes to attend college in D.C.

“Understanding the pathway for girls, and really the history of exploitation and abuse, is key to being able to undertake reform efforts that are really responsive to girls’ needs,” Watson told JJIE.org.

The Georgetown report came out of a meeting of experts and professionals last year where, Watson said, few knew of innovations by states other than their own. “It’s extremely important that states that are interested in reforms have the examples of other states to work on so they’re not re-creating the wheel,” Watson said.

The report outlines reform efforts by Connecticut, Florida and one California county, and offers recommendations for the federal government that echo those presented to the coordinating council by Pettigrew and other advocates.

The federal government must fund research and evaluation of girls’ programs, improve the assessment and data collection tools available for girls, and encourage states to develop programs that are geared toward girls’ particular needs and that take into account their history of sexual trauma, trafficking and exploitation, they say.

Back in Los Angeles, Contreras is now taking college sociology courses, working for a major health care organization and volunteering at a program for foster youth. During her last couple of years in detention, she said, she realized she had to take care of herself if she wanted to succeed.

Pettigrew is applying to undergraduate programs and trying to collect funds for college. It’s hard sharing her story in a roomful of people, she said, especially when few share her history. But she needs to do it, she said, so more people can understand what it’s like to be a girl in the system.

Photos by Kaukab Jhumra Smith




State Advisors to Federal Juvenile Justice Office Briefed on Reforms

Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice meeting in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirteen advocates and professionals from around the country who serve as advisors to the federal office for juvenile justice met for two days last week in Washington, D.C., to share information on reforms and funding at the state and federal levels.

The Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which normally meets online every few months, gathered face-to-face for the first time in a year. Its last online meeting occurred Aug. 10. 

Some of the reforms the committee discussed lie within the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself. Melodee Hanes, the acting office administrator, told committee members on the opening day of the meeting that a structural reorganization of her office, which has been in the works for months, would be announced soon. The office is also close to releasing its program plan for next year, she said.

The associate administrator for budget and planning, Janet Chiancone, described to the committee a “mixed” outlook for federal funding for juvenile justice in the 2013 fiscal year. Federal money for programs administered by the federal juvenile justice office has steadily fallen from $461.5 million in fiscal year 2009 to $277 million in fiscal year 2012, a 41 percent decline, she said.

Although the 2013 fiscal year began Oct. 1, a gridlocked Congress has yet to reach a budget deal. The proposed House budget for 2013 further slashes funds for OJJDP programs to $214 million, while the Senate version increases funding from last year’s level for the OJJDP to $299.5 million, she said. Both chambers are in recess until after the presidential election.

On Friday, committee members were briefed on changes in federal and state legislation on juvenile justice in recent years, trends that speakers said were driven by falling rates of juvenile crime, declining youth incarceration rates, the availability of better research and a shift away from treating children like adults under the law.

Friday’s speakers included Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Washington-D.C.-

Bart Lubow

based Coalition for Juvenile Justice – a network of citizens, advocates and professionals from every state who advise their local governments on juvenile justice issues and monitor their adherence to federal guidelines — and Bart Lubow, director of the juvenile justice strategy group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that has played a key role in funding reform initiatives around the country.

Sarah Brown, a senior researcher at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group of state legislators and their staff, described her recent report on trends in state legislation on juvenile justice in the last 10 years.

Speaking from Colorado via videoconference, Brown pointed to three separate rulings since 2005 by the U.S. Supreme Court that have adjusted federal standards for juvenile sentencing by abolishing the death penalty, life sentences without parole for non-homicides, and mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles. These rulings reflect the impact of new research on adolescent development and highlight how many states are shifting toward treating juvenile offenders differently than adults, she said.

Between 2001 and 2011, 20 states passed laws to expand the jurisdiction of juvenile courts, such as by raising the age limit for juvenile offenses, she said. Other state trends include the passage of legislation improving young people’s access to sound legal defense, reallocating funds from correctional facilities to community-based alternatives, and focusing on young people’s mental health needs.

At least 10 states have passed laws to address racial disparities in the detention and incarceration of youth in the last 10 years, Brown said. And more than half of all states have passed laws aimed at supporting young people once they are released from detention or confinement.

Hornberger, who has lobbied Congress for system reform for 25 years, provided historical perspective on the trends affecting federal policy changes and provided recommendations for future legislation, including the long-overdue reauthorization of a sweeping federal bill on juvenile justice that was first passed by Congress in 1974.

“Generally, Congress has regarded juvenile justice and delinquency prevention to be a limited role,” Hornberger said. However, the 1970s brought a significant shift in the way people thought about the detention and incarceration of youth, their treatment as status offenders, their placement in adult jails, and their separation from adult offenders by sight and sound, she said.

The resulting federal legislation, the sweeping Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, marked “a sea change” that forced states to meet federal standards on how to treat youth within the justice system, Hornberger said. Subsequent reauthorizations of the Act in the 1980s and 1990s added more requirements for states, including new rules asking states to explore racial disparities in their confinement of youth.

Last reauthorized 10 years ago, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was due for reauthorization again in 2007 but has languished in Congress. Although a U.S. Senate committee has twice approved the reauthorization in recent years, the bills did not make it to the Senate floor. The House of Representatives has not acted on a reauthorization bill nor any legislation to do with juvenile justice in the last six years, Hornberger said.

Hornberger remains stoic. The 2002 reauthorization took six years to push through, she said. “It’s always been a long haul to get this Act reauthorized.”

In general, federal policy on juvenile justice has traditionally swung like a pendulum, with equilibrium rarely in the middle, she said. “Members of Congress are consistently going back and forth between punitive and rehabilitative approaches.”

Policy swings are frequently affected by changes in leadership, whether in the White House, on congressional committees, or within the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself, she said.

Congressional legislation still demonstrates a trend toward criminalizing normal adolescent behavior, such as underage drinking or sexting, Hornberger said. And federal legislators are still wrestling with the choices of institutionalized care versus family and community-based solutions, she said.

“There have been trends in time where national policy has really spurred state reforms,” like in the 1970s, Hornberger said. But these days, national policy is playing catch-up with reforms initiated by national foundations and some states, she added.

While federal trends in legislation and policy so far appear promising, the legislative progress is fragile, she warned — especially in critical areas like the consideration of adolescent development and racial and ethnic disparities.

Speaking after Hornberger, Lubow gave a spirited presentation that made clear he too thought there was lots of room for improvement.

For every 100,000 young people in the United States, 336 are locked up, the highest rate in the developed world, he said. South Africa is in second place, at nearly one-fifth the rate of the United States. This could not be explained by disparities in juvenile crime, he said.

“We lock kids up in this country for a lot of minor stuff. In fact, we lock them up for things that we do not lock adults up for,” Lubow said. “We do that, frankly, because adults are bullies. When we get frustrated with kids who do not follow our rules, we throw them into detention centers.”

What would happen, he asked, if judges and law enforcement could not fall back upon incarcerating kids when they were angered and frustrated by their behavior? “What positions, what creativity, what alternatives would we come up with?” he asked.

Necessary innovations include limiting the types of young offenders who get incarcerated, increasing non-residential community alternatives to incarceration, and changing the financial incentives for local governments to keep their children within their own system and not the state’s, Lubow said.

Sometimes reforms only happen after someone takes off a shoe and bangs it on the table, Lubow told the committee.

Photos by Kaukab Jhumra Smith




Should 24-Year-Old Offenders be Considered Juveniles?

LAS VEGAS — When the National Partnership for Juvenile Services annual symposium opened, Jason Bowser, a youth service director from Columbus, Ind., told an executive committee that one of the standing committees was focusing on the question of “What is a juvenile?”

It might seem an odd question for a gathering of folks who specialize in working with youth in the juvenile justice system, but really the question, even when not spoken, would be present in training sessions across the three-day symposium held here this week. Nor is it just a hypothetical question because nearly 250,000 young people under the age of 18 end up in the adult criminal justice system every year, according to the National Institute of Corrections report, “You’re an Adult Now: Youth in Adult Criminal Justice Systems.”

Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice — in a session reflecting the “Adult Now” theme — reminded everyone that New York and North Carolina still consider juveniles to be adults at the ages of 16 or 17 in criminal proceedings, whereas in the rest of the states it’s 18. Ryan said a new report shows that each year 100,000 young people get sent to an adult facility and on any given day approximately 10,000 of them are in an adult facility.

Michael Dempsey

Once there, the correction system managers do have rules that treat the juvenile differently from the mainstream adult population. At times that means putting the kids into isolation. Elissa Rumsey, compliance monitor coordinator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), said, “Isolation means that there is no outside time, you are seriously locked down for 24/7. Some get out three hours in a week and are in a cage on the grounds by themselves. Truly no human contact, food through the door, no contact with staff, no services, no other people. That’s isolation.”

Ryan said they might be isolated because of a teenage behavior issue, be a true danger or for their own protection from the adult prisoners.

No matter the reason Rumsey says, “When they are put in isolation that increases the behavioral issues because it tends to drive one crazy when you are locked down for 24/7 without any sunlight. So they would act out with even worse behaviors.”

Michael Dempsey, who works with the Indiana Department of Correction and who has been advocating for juvenile treatment for a 14-year-old who was found guilty of murder as a 12-year-old and given an adult sentence, says, “There are many of us who believe anyone up to the age of

Cindy Thacker

23 or 24 could still be considered a juvenile, it depends on where they are at developmentally. But in the eyes of most laws anyone over the age of 18 is considered an adult.”

New research demonstrates that the brain is not fully developed until about the age of 25, according to experts. Margaret Davis, who co-taught a training seminar on the latest developments in brain research, says, “When you ask a lot of people what is a juvenile, they think it has shifted today to be a later age and it really can be anybody up to the age of 25.”

Furthermore, her co-presenter Cindy Thacker said staff working with young people need tounderstand the ways kids’ brains work, and that extends to staff who work with kids in adult facilities.

Davis said, “They cannot and should not be treating those kids the same way they are treating the adult offenders. They need more programming, they need more structure. These 16-year-olds cannot make the decisions for themselves the way a 30-year-old offender makes those decisions.”

Margaret Davis

Dempsey, from the Indiana Department of Corrections, said unfortunately that is not the case for kids when they end up in the adult system. They have to deal with staff who are trained to work with adults and not trained to be adolescence development specialists, he said.

As we deal with the question: What is a juvenile and how to best treat youth in the juvenile justice system, Dempsey says we must identify the best approaches and piece-by-piece build a best practice model that can be duplicated nationally.

“I think we will get there. It is a slow process,” he said.

Photos by Leonard Witt | JJIE.org




Safe Start Center Provides Best Practices for Working with Young Victims of Trauma

The Safe Start Center recently released a publication that outlines the best practices for youth service providers working with children that have experienced victimization or severe trauma.

Victimization and Trauma Experienced by Children and Youth: Implications for Legal Advocates” addresses numerous topics, including the best available assessments and treatments for trauma-related stress in young people. The brief, the seventh entry in “Moving from Evidence to Action: The Safe Start Center Series on Children Exposed to Violence,” contains suggestions for experts in both the juvenile justice field as well as the field of child welfare, providing attorneys and court-appointed advocates with specialized information about trauma-informed practices.

The brief lists several symptoms of traumatic stress for workers in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems to note, in addition to multiple screening and assessment instruments commonly used to address past traumatic experiences and exposure to violence by young people.

The Safe Start Center notes numerous emerging, evidence-supported interventions, such as Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) and Trauma Affect Regulation: Guide for Education and Therapy (TARGET) as promising programs for the treatment and rehabilitation of young people effected by trauma and victimization. The publication addresses efforts on the state and local level by organizations that have sought to implement trauma-informed services into juvenile justice and child welfare frameworks, concluding with a list of suggestions for the promotion of policy reforms in legal practices.

The Safe Start Center, a project of the United States Department of Justice, is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).




Experts Offer Strategies for Preventing Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Crossover

We knew the pathway existed,” Shay Bilchick said during the opening of Preventing Youth from Crossing Over Between the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems, a webinar held Wednesday by the National Training & Technical Assistance Center, a program of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

As a prosecutor working the family court circuits in Florida, Bilchik — now the founder and director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute — noted an apparent connection between child abuse and neglect and delinquency cases, referring to such crossover youth as a “challenging” population. 

Shortly after Bilchik joined the Public Policy Institute in 2007, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and Casey Family Programs worked together to create the Crossover Youth Practice Model. This model stems from the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Integration Breakthrough Series Collaborative, developed in the mid-1990s by the Associates in Process Improvement, Casey Family Programs and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

According to Bilchik, certain methods, policies and practices can “interrupt the trajectory” of crossover between child welfare and juvenile justices systems. Serving as the webinar’s moderator, he introduced three speakers with extensive experience in “crossover prevention.”

“These young people are our young people,” said CJJR Program Manager Macon Stewart. “Prevention is a collective responsibility.”

Stewart said that crossover youth entails three categories of juveniles; those that have experienced some level of maltreatment and delinquency — typically referred to simply as “crossover youth” — as well as dually-involved youth and dually-adjudicated youth. The primary difference between the latter two, Stewart said, is that while dually-involved youth, to some degree, have been involved in both systems, dually-adjudicated youth have been “formally involved” in both systems through court actions.

Stewart noted four primary pathways in which youth crossover between child welfare and juvenile justice systems, noting that juveniles with open child welfare cases and subsequent delinquency charges represented the “most dominant form of crossover.”

Although many factors influence crossover youth, Stewart cited placement instability, the absence of pro-social bonds and challenges in educational settings as the three most common.

In evaluating crossover youth, Stewart advised communities to collect data on previous referrals, placement types, number of placement moves and especially individual pathways to crossing over. “The data is key in this,” she said, urging stakeholders to establish “a memorandum of understanding” around data sharing.

Stewart suggested that prevention efforts focus on building collaborative relationships with local law enforcement, placement providers and schools, emphasizing “time-limited” and “very targeted” approaches. She advised that foster home and residential placement personnel should have trauma-informed training and encouraged the use of student mentors and advisors for at-risk youth. She also advocated the use of school liaisons, so that stakeholders could concentrate on “what can you do as opposed to focusing in on what you can’t do.”

“Prevention strategies in L.A. have been going on for many years,” said Maryam Fatemi, the deputy director of Los Angeles County’s Division of Family and Children Services. She said that the county adopted their initial process in 1997, resulting in a pilot project, called the AB 129-Systems Integration Initiative, in 2007. By 2012, an updated protocol called the Los Angeles County Crossover Youth Initiative — which is anchored around multi-departmental, joint assessments — had been implemented countywide.

Citing a 2011 study funded by the Hilton Foundation, Fatemi said there was a definite connection between prior child abuse and neglect and juvenile delinquency. The adult outcomes for crossover youth, she said, were many times tragic.

“Nearly one quarter of crossover youth received treatment for a serious mental illness during the first four years of adulthood,” she said.

Fatemi promoted the use of multi-system strategies, specifically multi-disciplinary teams and collaboration with existing school-based programs, as a means of preventing youth crossover. “Education and employment services provide key opportunities for intervention,” she said.

Children in group homes are a population Fatemi is particularly concerned about. “Youth living in a group home when arrested are more likely to be detained in juvenile hall than youth residing in other types of placement,” she stated. To deter youth crossover, she advised that group homes engage in sharing data with other departments and give feedback to other agencies about staff turnover and delays in service.

Mick Moore, assistant to the Superintendent for Interagency Relations with the Puget Sound Educational Service District and a senior education consultant in King County, Wash., helped develop the PathNet model, which is designed to help crossover youth achieve “alternative pathways” to education, particularly when they lack sufficient credits to obtain a high school diploma.

“Stability is a key factor in limiting crossover,” he said. The PathNet model consists of four primary modules, which include strength-based assessments, student-driven plans, connectivity to proper educational and vocational programs and the assistance of a “care manger,” which Moore described as “a significant adult there to help them.”

Moore referred to the program as “an immediate step to the next connection in education and vocation.” In 2010, House Bill 1418 was officially adopted by the Washington Legislature, creating a statewide program to reengage youth that are “significantly” behind in academic credits.

Using braided funding models, a number of programs designed to help crossover youth were established, among them a dropout intervention program targeting Latino youth called “Avanza” as well as a project called “Pathway through Apprenticeship,” which helps community college students connect with local businesses and industries.

Moore ended his presentation by stating that crossover youth require consistent, dependable services, which may take many years to develop.

“Instability is one of our greatest problems with these youth,” Moore concluded. “Reengagement into education and vocation with crossover youth is a process, not a singular event.”

Photo by the OJJDP.