What We’re Here For: The Role and Purpose of Juvenile Detention in the 21st Century

Across the nation, perspectives on juvenile detention are changing. Several experts share how they believe modern juvenile justice is implementing more rehabilitative models and what the ultimate dividends may be for both young people and U.S. society as a whole

Mike Rollins, executive director of Coosa Valley Youth Services (CVYS) in Anniston, Ala., has been at the facility for more than 30 years. His experiences, however, aren’t just limited to working there.

At 17, Rollins walked into CVYS for the first time. “I was engaged in drug use,” Rollins said. “I was a teenager, and my parents, really, became aware of my activities and turned me into the police department.”

After being released by the Department of Youth Services, he returned to the facility looking for part-time employment. Starting off in a maintenance position, he eventually rose to the position of executive director after working at the facility for more than three decades.

He notes the smell of fresh paint outside one of the detention center’s visitation rooms. For a building built in 1974, he said, the facility is in very good condition.

Rollins’ facility is divided into three primary buildings: a detention center, home to an all-male juvenile population; the Lewis Academy, a barracks-style center for non-delinquent young males; and the Attention Home, which contains an exclusively female population.

“I would say, typically, we’re going to have a male youth, more often than not, [a] Caucasian,” he said. “Multiple theft or assault, or maybe a little more serious, possibly. We get a fair number of domestic violence type cases.”

Rollins said that the typical CVYS resident is between the ages of 15 and 17, with the average juvenile staying at the facility for “a couple of weeks” while their cases are being processed. If specific needs are required, like a psychiatric evaluation or specialized treatment placement, he said their stays are generally a little longer.

The facility, deemed by Rollins as a “publicly-funded, non-profit corporation,” serves 11 combined counties in the northern and central Alabama region. Geographically, the facility serves a population consisting of more than 700,000 people.

In such a vast area, Rollins said that it’s difficult to make generalized statements about the backgrounds of the facility’s residents. “There’s a lot of variation in some of those counties,” he said. Most of his residents typically come from single parent homes, are behind in school and generally have multiple offenses, mostly, “minor stuff,” he says like truancy and running away from home.

“But we also get first time offenders,” he said. “We also get professional families’ children. We’ve had law enforcements’ children, physicians’ and attorneys’ children, we’ve had politicians’ children. We’ve had children from non-broken families.”

While CVYS doesn’t track parental and guardian abuse as a statistic, Rollins said that it’s likely a “fairly common” piece of what the juveniles have experienced prior to arriving at his facility.

“Whether it’s physical, whether it’s mental, emotional or whether it’s sexual,” he said, “it would be hard to guesstimate, but it’s probably more than most people would imagine or realize.”

The Importance of Personnel

Over the last decade, numerous juvenile justice reform initiatives have come to pass, with major implications for juvenile detention facilities. With many states turning towards community-based alternatives and other diversion programs, the core “function” of juvenile detention in the 21st century has undergone sweeping changes, with many advocates and system-involved personnel adopting policies and procedures that emphasize rehabilitative and therapeutic services in lieu of strict “punitive” measures.

Reclaiming Futures Justice Fellow Eric Shafer was the Chief Probation Officer for the Montgomery County Juvenile Court in Dayton, Ohio for eight years. While he believes the fundamental purpose of juvenile detention is to protect the public from young people that have committed very serious crimes, he also thinks that juvenile detention serves a greater purpose for both youth and society.

“I think you can do a lot of fantastic things in detention as long as you are serving the correct kids,” Shafer said. He ultimately believes that many organizations, however, are over-using detention for status offenses and low-level first-time offenders.

“There are a number of very positive communities that are really moving forward to reform use of detention,“ he said, “but if I had to make a judgment, we still have a long way to go in the country.”

Due to budget cuts, he believes many facilities are incapable of bringing in the best rehabilitative programs. But if detention centers “invest” in qualified and devoted personnel, he stated, there’s still an opportunity for facilities to provide excellent therapeutic services for residents. “I think the key to making a detention center a positive experience lies in staff,” he said. “Although a number of courts have had to cut back on staff, training and development of staff, I think, is the key in being successful when youth are detained.”

Staff shouldn’t just be there to “hold them down,” he believes. If personnel are able to provide high-quality therapeutic services with young people in detention, Shafer said that even budget-strapped facilities have the capability to provide excellent rehabilitation services for juveniles.

Similarly, Rollins believes successful youth rehabilitative services hinge on supportive and impassioned personnel.

“You can have a structure, you can have a best practices program, anywhere in the country,” he said. “You can try to replicate what people do successfully, but if you don’t have the right people running or operating it, it’s going to fall on its face.”

Rollins said that most of his staff have been working at CVYS for years, some of them even decades. “We try to keep people, we try to train them to be better at what they do.”

He believes that it is more important to “inundate” juveniles with services during detention stays than simply provide short-term housing. “We all know that a lot of these kids don’t see themselves in the greatest of lights,” he said. “We’re not going to boast them up to feeling like celebrities, but we want them to feel like they’ve got a valid, strong place in the world.”

New Perspectives on Treatment and Rehabilitation

“Juvenile detention in the 21st century should be about keeping kids and communities safe,” Rollins believes. “The kids that go to detention need to be the kids that, if they’re not in detention, somebody’s at risk - either that child, or somebody in the community.”

He believes that juvenile detention shouldn’t be thought of as a punishment, but as an opportunity to get juveniles on the path to becoming better students and citizens.

“We understand that these teen years are really, really tough times for a lot of people,” Rollins said. “If we can give them as many tools as they get, holistically, [we] stand a lot better chance of success when they leave us.”

Rollins believes that, in addition to counseling and academic services, physical activity serves as an important component in rehabilitating juvenile offenders. Boys at the detention center shoot hoops at a carpeted basketball court, and residents at the Lewis Academy regularly engage in rappel tower training exercises. Many of the female residents are involved in yoga programs and participate in equine therapy sessions. Rollins is a strong proponent of horticultural therapy for adolescents - he said that the process of raising and nurturing a plant builds many of the same empathetic tendencies required to rear a child.

His facility uses a Polycom videoconferencing system - the very device used in some of his residents’ court proceedings - to take students on “virtual field trips.” He believes that involvement with the community is essential, but realizes there are certain challenges - primarily, confidentiality issues - that make outside interaction problematic. Even so, he notes that positive feedback from outside the facility often motivates his residents.

“We don’t want to be ostracized from the community,” he said.

In Montgomery County, Shafer said that juvenile rehabilitation begins before youth even enter detention facilities, as every young person that enters the juvenile justice system is processed through an intervention center, which is open 24 hours a day.

“A kid comes to us, and we do an initial screening on that young person to determine what kind of needs they may have,” he said. “If they indicate they do have some need, they’re going to move on to a standardized assessment that’s going to tell us ‘hey, does this young person have a substance abuse problem and do they have some mental health needs?’”

After being screened, administrators help young people coordinate services, either in detention or elsewhere in the community. “We’re able to link that person to substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, issues with treatment in school, whatever, they need,” Shafer said.

“A lot of times, we will make phone calls, set up an appointment for them, maybe even give them a ride to get that relationship started,” he said. “We lose a lot of young people in this phase, because we leave it up to them to make sure they get their next appointment.”

By coordinating services, Shafer said that the model prevents many young people from “falling through the cracks” en route to obtaining treatment. Statistically, he said that young offenders have greater likelihoods of sticking with intervention services if they attend the first three meetings.

“When they complete treatment,” he said, “we’re able to move them on to bigger and better things, getting them into their community, moving them into all kinds of opportunities.”

Building Better Futures

“I think that, from a community perspective, and particularly, the schools’ perspectives, a lot of people look down on the kids that come here,” Rollins said. “When they come in, there may be fear, trepidation, those kinds of things, or there could be bravado, feeling like a tough guy.” He said that it’s his job to help these young people come “back to reality,” to show them that their stay at CYVS could be a strong and progressive experience.

“We need, as a unit, to make an impact on those kids right away,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure it’s not dead time, and that it’s truly productive time, that we clean them out, clean them up, help them get healthier, help them get their mind stronger and help them understand their place as a juvenile in this world is to be a student.”

Shafer said that therapeutic services allow young people in detention the opportunity to develop relational and social skills that will ultimately help them better interact in society. “A lot of times, young people don’t have skills to just communicate,” Shafer said. “As a result, they result to violence or they treat people the way they really don’t want to treat them.”

Methods-based practices like Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) and Functional Family Therapy (FFT), he said, have been proven to have positive outcomes for those involved in the juvenile justice system. “The payoff is that you’re going to have young people that are better prepared,” he believes. “I don’t mean that they have a new degree or training in this or that, but I think they’re better individuals. They know better how to think before they act, they know better how to run back into their peers and solve problems themselves.”

Rollins also said that the juvenile population is in dire need of “life management skills.”

“I think it’s important that we as a culture - a country, a people - help kids see themselves differently,” he said. “We need to help them visualize themselves as successful, as people with opportunities for a future, as being able to learn, as being employable.”

Rollins’ summarized his philosophy on the purpose of juvenile detention as, ultimately, a character-building process.

“What we do here is to try and teach kids that you are capable, you can be a good person, you can be as good as you want to be, you’re going to get the respect that you give [and] we’re going to support you if we can,” he concluded.

“If there’s any way we can help you become a better person, that’s what we’re here for.”

Photos by Ryan Schill. 

A Look at Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

A report released this month takes an in-depth look at how girls are represented in North Carolina's juvenile justice system, how the numbers have shifted over the years and why females are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system despite the overall decrease in juvenile crime. Representing Girls In the Juvenile Justice System, released by the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender, looks at not only the characteristics and risk factors of girls in the juvenile justice system, but also offers several best practices to best serve the unique issues this population faces.

Since the early 1990s, due to policy changes, the number of girls in the juvenile justice system has been on the rise. Basically, the increased amount of girls in the juvenile justice system can be credited to the “relabeling of girls’ family conflicts as violent offenses, shifting police practices concerning domestic violence, processing of misdemeanor cases in a gender-biased manner and a misunderstanding of girls’ developmental issues,” according to the report.

Currently, it’s estimated that girls make up 30% of youth arrested and 24% of youth serving time in detention centers. Studies show that girls are more likely than boys to be placed in these centers for less serious offenses. The majority of the female youth, and all young people in the juvenile justice system, are people of color. Also, the type of offenses that girls more typically commit varies from those of boys. Girls tend to commit less serious crimes but are arrested for status offenses, such as running away, curfew violations and underage drinking, at a rate double of boys.

The risk factors for boys and girls entering the juvenile justice system also differ. Girls and boys react differently to most situations so it’s important to take gender into account when evaluating a youth’s past. For example, peer and romantic relationships often have opposite effects on young girls and boys. While boys are less likely to be involved in criminal activity when in a romantic relationship, girls tend to commit more offenses. Girls are also more likely to be afflicted with mental health disorders than boys.

Because of the numerous differences between male and female juvenile offenders, the ways that they need to be treated should be different as well. According to a study done by the Girls Justice Initiative, 89% of the 118 attorneys and 61% of the 97 judges interviewed across the county agree that girls in the juvenile justice system do not receive adequate services. This report offers best practices starting from how to communicate with girls when first enter to the juvenile justice system to how to best serve them after they leave in order to reduce recidivism rates and address the circumstances that led to their incarceration.

This article originally appeared on Reclaiming Futures

Photo by flickr user staticjana 

Juvenile Justice in New Orleans: LGBT issues, School-to-Prison Pipeline and More

On March 22nd, 2012, The Lens welcomed five panelists and over 100 attendees to its third salon at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, which focused on the status of the juvenile justice system in the New Orleans area.

Panelists were queried by the moderator on issues surrounding the new French Quarter youth curfew, LGBTQ youth issues in juvenile facilities, the rebuilding of the Youth Studies Center, the school to prison pipeline, and the New Orleans Parish Prison. Audience members were then invited to pose their own questions to the panel.


Dana Kaplan - Executive Director of Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
Wes Ware - Founder & Director of BreakOUT!
Michael Bradley - Deputy Chief District Defender at Orleans Public Defenders
Eden Heilman - Senior Staff Attorney at Southern Poverty Law Center
Alison McCrary - Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow at Safe Streets/Strong Communities

This panel was one in a series of events held by The Lens to engage readers and New Orleans stakeholders on current issues.

Thanks to all of our panelists for lending their time and insight, the Ashe Cultural Arts Center for the use of their space, Il Posto and Dorignac’s for their contributions, and to everyone who attended.

The post above is reprinted with permission from The Lens and Reclaiming Futures.

Reclaiming Future’s JMATE Updates and Live Blog

Our friends at Reclaiming Futures have settled in at the Joint Meeting of Adolescent Treatment Effiectiveness (JMATE) and have been live blogging the whole thing on their blog. Read on for all the updates.


JMATE 2012: Ask a Judge: Demystifying Juvenile Court and How Judges and Treatment Providers Can Partner Together Successfully by Liz Wu

Earlier this afternoon, I sat in on a JMATE panel with three judges who discussed how Reclaiming Futures works in their courts and why other courts should consider implementing the model.

Judge Capizzi of Dayton, Ohio, began the presentation with the problem: too many teens today are struggling with drugs, alcohol and crime. Eighty percent of the youth Judge Capizzi sees have alcohol or other drug problems and many are self medicating. And this is not unique to Ohio.

As a juvenile court judge, Judge Capizzi finds that treatment helps reduce recidivism, saves money and builds safer communities. BUT most juvenile courts are not set up to detect and treat substance abuse or provide mental health services. And this is where the six step Reclaiming Futures model comes in. Under the Reclaiming Futures model, court teams are set up with a judge, probation officer, treatment provider and community members. The teams work together to make sure that kids are screened for alcohol and other drugs at intake and sent to treatment when needed.

Judge Beth Dixon from Rowan County, North Carolina, stressed that through Reclaiming Futures, her court is saving money and putting kids on the path to recovery. She explained that she may not even see some of the troubled youth, because they are assessed at intake and may be diverted to treatment programs. Out of all the kids sent to treatment last year, only 9% failed to complete it. In her court, recidivism is at 11% which is much better than the statewide average of 34%. Judge Dixon stressed that folks need to let their juvenile judges know that they can do better than the status quo and Reclaiming Futures is a viable (and proven) option.

Judge Bruce Weiss of Snohomish County, Washington discussed the importance of building relationships between the court, probation and treatment providers. As a juvenile court judge, he's implemented Friday night game nights where probation, treatment, court and community members come together to get to know each other and strengthen their relationships.

Judge Weiss also noted the importance for troubled teens to have positive adult role models and mentors. Many of the kids he sees in court lack positive adult relationships so in Snohomish County, they are working on partnering with Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Questions ranged on the role of families in the Reclaiming Futures model (very important in steps 3-6), the cost (Judge Capizzi said the cost is zero when savings are factored in) and how to learn more about Reclaiming Futures (click here).

The panel ended with Judge Dixon saying, "what we do is we try our best to keep these kids at home with their families." The role of juvenile court judges is to help troubled young people get treatment and back on the path to success.


JMATE 2012: Recovery Schools by Liz Wu

Across the country, substance abusing teens are dropping out of high school at alarming rates. But a recovery high school in downtown Boston is targeting youth in recovery with great success. At a JMATE 2012 panel on recovery schools, a staff member from Ostiguy Recovery School spoke about the differences between a recovery school and a regular school. At Ostiguy Recovery School:

  • Students receive recovery support and counseling in addition to math and science
  • Students lead their own sobriety groups which empowers them to take control of their lives
  • Students WANT to be there (this is not a mandated rehab program)
  • Students outreach at area schools to let troubled students know there is another option

It will be interesting to see if other communities open their own recovery schools...


Live blogging at JMATE: Organizational Issues in an Era of Change by Mac Prichard

This morning I attend a panel discussion on how organizations manage change. Chaired by Dan Merrigan, a professor at Boston University who manages the Reclaiming Futures leadership program, the session featured three presentations that addressed key communication and collaboration challenges.

Dr. Merrigan focused on the role of leadership in the initiative. “At Reclaiming Futures, we believe leadership is about setting direction, creating alignment, and maintaining commitment,” said Dr. Merrigan. “ According to Dr. Merrigan, the Reclaiming Futures leadership culture is a collective activity distributed across boundaries and it exists without formal authority. “Leadership is adaptive, strategic, and relational,” said Dr. Merrigan.

Dr. Merrigan stressed that it’s important to recognize that change always causes anxiety. “We urge people to distinguish between technical work (which requires mechanical fixes),” he said, “and adaptive work (which requires addressing change). To accomplish this, Reclaiming Futures helps local teams build teams across systems, cultures and organizations that identify their adaptive challenges.”

Dennis Reilly, Project Director for Reclaiming Futures of Nassau County, New York, spoke next. “We’re not boundary busters, but boundary circumnavigators,” said Reilly about his project. “We used Reclaiming Futures as an opportunity to enhance and improve existing services like youth court, or to involve new partners like the Vera Institute of Justice.”

Evan Elkin, director of planning and government innovation at the Vera Institute of Justice, advised the Nassau County Reclaiming Futures project on adoption of evidence based drug and alcohol treatment models.

“We tried something different in Nassau County,” said Elkin. “We invested in a coaching process. Nassau County has 50 different treatment providers. It’s a large, diverse community. We had to leave a lot of different ways for providers to get involved.” According to Elkin, some of the techniques they used included training more than 200 people, developing online video training materials, and collaborating with Adelphi University on an evidence-based practice curriculum.

David Smith closed the session with a brief primer on privacy issues and recent changes in federal laws, especially the Health Information Technology for Clinical Health Act.

Smith said the most important development were new sanctions, including fines and legal liability. Providers need to be aware of these changes and incorporate them into their business practices.


JMATE 2012: Day 1 Takeaways by Liz Wu

Well, JMATE is off to a great start! Day one is over and we're all looking forward to day two. Here are our takeaways from today:

Jim Carlton, Deputy Director, Reclaiming Futures

  • Funding for prevention has been steadily declining over the years.
  • We're now seeing an uptick in marijuana (and alcohol???) usage among teens as prevention messages and perceived risks decrease.
  • Recovery services need to become as available as drugs and alcohol are.
  • Child maltreatment is the biggest predictor of co-occurring disorders.
  • Use of illegal substances and alcohol by adolescent girls have risen to nearly that of boys. Girls are more likely to abuse prescription drugs
  • There is ongoing tension around evidence based practices and culturally based services. For example, there are hundreds of federally recognized native tribes in the U.S. but very little research done to validate evidence based practices with them. Many native treatment approaches have not been studied.

Cora Crary, Learning Collaborative Manager, Reclaiming Futures

  • The language we use helps determine the response we get. Example: long-term recovery vs. addict.
  • We allow drugs and alcohol to be pervasive in our schools, but do not find ways to ensure recovery resources are as accessible.
  • The youth and families in treatment should be part of your program's planning and soluctions.
  • Working collaboratively helps ensure better outcomes for the community.
  • When seeking grant funds, don't focus on the money, focus on the opportunity for better ways to serve your clients.
  • Don't flee social ills, try to address and resolve the problems where they are at.

Liz Wu, Blog Editor, Reclaiming Futures

  • Addiction affects everyone, regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status or gender.
  • Juvenile court judges want to get troubled youth the help they need, not incarcerate.
  • At recovery high schools, students are there because they want to be, which empowers them to seek help and support services.
  • When using social media with people in recovery, privacy is important. Need to refrain from "outing" people in recovery without their permission.
  • The juvenile justice system was created with boys in mind but girls have different needs.

Stay tuned for more conference updates.



Live Blogging JMATE: The Juvenile Drug Court and Reclaiming Futures Models by Mac Prichard

This afternoon we heard about an upcoming evaluation of six Reclaiming Futures juvenile drug courts. Bridget Ruiz, a technical expert on adolescents from JBS International, chaired the session and opened the panel presentation with a discussion of the history of juvenile drug courts and Reclaiming Futures and also outlined the important elements of each approach.

“Evidence shows that combining the two models has been effective in helping young people, “ said Ruiz, who formerly was an associate professor at the University of Arizona.

Erika Ostlie, a senior policy associate at Carnevale Associates, gave an overview of an upcoming evaluation supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of six federally funded Reclaiming Futures sites.

“This is a multi-site four-year evaluation of the two models,” said Ostlie, who will help manage the evaluation. “We will identify factors, elements and services that perform best with respect to o outcomes and cost effectiveness.” Besides Carnevale Associates, the other members of the evaluation team include the University of Arizona and Chestnut Health Systems.

“This study will address a huge gap in the literature,” said Ostlie. “There are more than 500 juvenile drug courts in the US but few studies about them exist.”

John Carnevale, president of Carnevale Associates, discussed federal drug policy since the 1980s, especially as it related to drug treatment and drug courts.

“We have lots of evidence now about effectiveness about adult drug courts,” said Carnevale. “We need more information about juvenile drug courts.


JMATE 2012: Remembering and Honoring John Berry by Liz Wu

This morning we took some time to honor and remember friends and mentors who passed away last year. I could never do these individuals and their legacies justice, so I'll just say that we've lost some real life heroes and champions of youth who continue to inspire us daily.

Reclaiming Futures lost a tireless youth advocate and mentor last October. At this JMATE session, colleague Denise Mannon remembered John Berry and spoke about her experience in working with him. John was a true friend and supporter of youth who worked as a justice fellow at Reclaiming Futures in Forsyth County, North Carolina. John was a humble man who supported his colleagues and often thanked them for their dedication and work. He is greatly missed.

After his passing, Robin Jenkins (Chief Operating Officer, North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) released the following statement, praising John for his work and dedication to young people:

John was an ardent supporter of Reclaiming Futures as well as a vocal advocate for social justice involving all youth. He had a strong passion for his work and the communities impacted by his efforts. As the Justice Fellow, he was a leader and innovator in the Forsyth area in Reclaiming Futures, and worked very hard to cultivate the model as well as natural supports for young folk involved in their care across Forsyth County. We hope that you join with us in expressing our deepest condolences to his wife Valerie and his three children.

Stay tuned for more updates. . . 







Funding Opportunity: Become a Reclaiming Futures Site

Reclaiming Futures announced that the DOJ, OJP and OJJDP are seeking applications for $1.325 million in funding (over 4 years) to spread and implement the Reclaiming Futures model. More specifically, grants will be given to build the capacity of states, courts, local governments and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish Reclaiming Futures' juvenile drug courts.

From the request for proposals:

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is pleased to announce that it is seeking applications for funding under the FY 2012 Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures program. This program furthers the Department’s mission by building the capacity of states, state and local courts, units of local government, and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish juvenile drug courts for substance abusing juvenile offenders.

For more information and to apply, please click here. The deadline to apply is May 16, 2012, at 11:59 ET.

New Financing Tool for Social Programs Opens Doors for Juvenile Justice

This story originally appeared on Reclaiming Futures.

Identifying the best programs for solving serious social problems is challenging for governments in the best of times, and all the more so in a constrained fiscal environment where every dollar must count. This is particularly true in areas like juvenile justice where the most effective interventions may involve combining approaches that governments currently support through separate funding streams—and where politicians’ personal views may steer disproportionate amounts of funds to programs that sound good on paper but don’t deliver results.

But an innovative new financing tool called Social Impact Bonds may help solve some of these challenges. Social Impact Bonds, or SIBs, take traditional government funding structures and turn them on their head. Instead of paying costs upfront for a proscribed set of services, SIBs allow governments to define outcomes they want to achieve—and not pay a dime if those goals are not met.

At their core, Social Impact Bonds are a straightforward concept. A SIB is an arrangement between one or more government agencies and an external organization where the government specifies an outcome or set of outcomes they want to achieve and promises to pay that external organization a pre-agreed sum if it is able to accomplish the outcome(s). For a SIB agreement to work, the contracting agencies must place few, if any, controls on how the external organization seeks to achieve the outcome. This allows the external organization to use a combination of approaches to achieve the outcome.

Consider the many programs that work with troubled youth. Research has shown that Scared Straight programs, popular with politicians and television audiences alike, can actually increase a participant’s chances of committing crimes. In a Social Impact Bond agreement to reduce juvenile delinquency in a certain city, then, the external organization that wins the SIB contract would certainly not choose Scared Straight to be one of the interventions it uses to achieve the outcome. Instead, the organization is likely to work with a set of service providers specializing in proven interventions like cognitive behavior therapy, substance-abuse treatment, and wilderness challenge programs, thereby offering a combination of approaches that can be tailored for each child.

There is particular excitement about using Social Impact Bonds to fund preventive projects with outcomes that will save money down the line. The first SIB in the world is currently under way in the United Kingdom, where the British government has contracted with an external organization called Social Finance to attempt to reduce the rate of recidivism among short-stay prisoners in the Peterborough prison facility. Under this arrangement, the government will release funds if there is a measured reduction in ex-prisoner reconviction of 7.5 percent relative to a group of similar prisoners discharged from other prisoners. The greater the reduction in the re-offending rate, the greater the payments, which are capped at around $12 million. The British government calculated how much it is willing to pay for this outcome by considering the savings likely to accrue to government as a result of reductions in recidivism. These included savings in future incarceration costs as well as savings in court and police time.

Social Finance, the external organization in Peterborough, needs money to pay for its operations in advance of any payment from the government, so it raises money from investors. In exchange for paying the upfront costs, these investors receive an agreed-upon return if the outcome is achieved. It’s a somewhat risky investment, as the investors stand to lose their capital if the outcome is not achieved and the government doesn’t release any funds. To date, the investors are all socially-minded trusts and foundations.

While the detailed operations of a Social Impact Bond agreement may seem complicated, SIBs represent an exciting opportunity for social service areas in which a combination of interventions yields the best results. Because the external organization is heavily incentivized to achieve the outcome and receive its payment, they are likely to look for service providers who have proven successful in the past. In this way, SIBs will allow proven interventions to “scale up” and expand to new cities and states. And in cases like Peterborough, where the outside organization receives more money the more successful it is, SIBs may encourage some experimentation with new and innovative approaches to solving old problems.

Social Impact Bonds are in their infancy in the United States, and there remains a great deal to learn. But these unusual financing vehicles have the potential to transform how we fund social services—and improve outcomes for taxpayers and beneficiaries alike.

Reclaiming Futures Updates Model for Teen Recovery

Reclaiming Futures' six-step model for helping young people who are struggling with alcohol, drugs and crime is receiving an update. The program began in 10 communities in 2001 with a $21 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The mission was to reinvent how juvenile courts, police, and communities work together in the interests of young people.

The six steps in the Reclaiming Futures model were “initial screening,” “initial assessment,” “service coordination,” “initiation,” “engagement” and “transition.” Previously, the final step in the program had been called “completion,” but according to Susan Richardson, Reclaiming Futures’ national executive director, the name wasn’t complete.

Writing on the Reclaiming Futures website, Richardson said completion “is an incomplete and sometimes inaccurate term for the complex work of transitioning out of ‘systems’ and into successful community life.”

Transition, she writes, more accurately portrays the “representative and interactive phase of transitioning youth to life outside of the justice system.”

Currently, the Reclaiming Futures model is used in 29 communities across the country.


Free Webinar Focuses on “Above the Influence” Toolkit

Reclaiming Futures will host a free webinar Wednesday, December 14 on the “Above the Influence” campaign that helps kids avoid negative peer pressure. The webinar kicks off at 2 p.m. EST and focuses on the “Above the Influence” toolkit.

The program will be followed by a Q&A session featuring Mark Krawczyk of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Sandy Olsen and Kay Crocket, both from the Coalition of Behavioral Health Services in Houston.

The “Above the Influence” campaign was created by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a program of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, with the goal of helping teens stand up to the pressure to drink or do drugs.


Juvenile Justice System: Alisa’s Story

I'm from a small town in Missouri. It all started when I was 13. I started rebelling, and I ended up stealing my dad's car.

I then got put in juvenile. Two weeks after being on probation for that, I stole another car... I was then placed in a treatment center which did nothing for me.

After I got released from there, I was still on probation. I then started smoking pot, drinking, fighting, and skipping school. So I continuously and gradually got into more trouble.

My juvenile officer had me do the "Scared Straight" program, which also didn't work at all. [The inmates] only made me mad by yelling in my face and telling me that if I didn't stop, I'd be where they were. The more everyone tried to tell me what to do, the more I felt I had to rebel.... I didn't understand why I wouldn't listen to them then, because I didn't want to be locked up, but I definitely didn't want everyone telling me what to do. I thought I was grown... But I know now that I wasn't.

My judge gave me too many chances. Finally, the last time I was in there, she placed me in Division of Youth Services custody. I no longer had a probation officer. I had a service coordinator. I was placed in juvenile [detention] until an opening at a girl's facility was open. A grand total of 7 months.

From there, I went to a girls' group in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. I could not leave there till I completed the program. You had to start as a level 1 and earn your level 4, which was really a blessing in disguise. Ever since my first day there, my life has not been the same.

I was there for well over a year... But all the staff members and the teacher there were the most wonderful, and amazing people I've ever been around in my entire life...

What changed? The staff at Sierra Osage helped me realize that it wasn't that I was just a wild child, and I wasn't just fighting people because I was mean.

I was acting out because I was a child from a broken home and I was hurt and and lost, and I felt alone. That I was angry/hurt at my family, for how I was treated and being around things and seeing things that a child shouldn't have to see. And that I just needed to talk about everything that hurt me in my life and get it off my chest. To not let those feeling of hurt build up anymore and allow them to turn into anger.

The staff helped me get through all of it and helped me with all of the social skills and coping skills that I would need to be a productive woman in society. They taught me everything I would need to know to be able to deal with the struggles that life throws at you along you way.

We did all kinds of different fundraisers and volunteer work, and it made me feel and realize I am wonderful person and don't have to end up like my family. With the level 4 system, it gave me the confidence I needed for when I came home. I'm proud to say, I left a level 4!! I knew I was ready.

Since I've been out. which is 6 years now, I have not been in any trouble. I even had a couple curve balls thrown at me one month after getting out: I lost my dad in a car accident and exactly two weeks later, I lost my best friend to suicide. If it wasn't for all the coping skills, and them teaching me that I'm a strong person, I would have been right back to where I started...

I am now 23 yrs old. I was going to go to school to be a kindergarden teacher, but recently with a change of heart I decided to become a youth specialist... I was looking further into that and I found the Reclaiming Futures page and figured I would tell my story.

Here's hoping my story helps kids in some way. I want to help kids the way that Sierra Osage has done for me! I thank God every day for putting them in my life. And for them directing me onto the path I was capable of going down!

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.

Shay Bilchik and Leah Kane On the National Reentry Resource Center’s Juvenile Justice FAQ’s

The National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC), a project of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, recently published a list of frequently asked questions and answers on juvenile justice and reentry.

As many as 100,000 youth under the age of 18 are released from juvenile correctional facilities every year. These young people often return to their communities with complex needs, such as physical and behavioral health issues and barriers to education and employment. The FAQ provides information on:

  • the organization of the juvenile justice system and its impact on reentry;
  • the characteristics of youth committed to out-of-home placement;
  • the challenges many youth face as they return from placement;
  • and the policies and practices that are key to successful reentry.

Here's just a few of the questions answered by the FAQ:

  • How is the juvenile justice system organized, and what does the organization of the system mean for juvenile reentry?
  • Why is it important to involve a youth's family in reentry planning, and how can reentry programs do it?
  • How should the child welfare and foster care systems be involved in reentry?
  • What responses are appropriate for youth who are at low risk of reoffending but have a high need for services and supports?
  • How do you design programming that taps into a youth's strengths?
  • What role do judges play in juvenile reentry?

The FAQ is the most recent juvenile reentry resource released by the NRRC and its Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, which is one of nine advisory committees that help guide the NRRC’s efforts to improve public safety and outcomes for returning individuals. The NRRC was launched by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in October 2009, following a competitive grant process and selection by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice.

Since 2009, the NRRC’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee has focused on five key areas emerging in youth reentry policy and practice:

  • Integrating the science of adolescent brain development into the design of reentry initiatives.
  • Ensuring that reentry initiatives build on youths’ strengths and assets to promote pro-social development.
  • Engaging families and community members in a meaningful manner throughout the reentry process.
  • Prioritizing education and employment as essential elements of a reentry plan.
  • Providing a stable, well-supported transition to adulthood that helps to create lifelong connections.

Learn more here about each of these five areas, and access resources related to each.

The FAQ is the fifth FAQ the NRRC has published on reentry topics; others cover issues including behavioral health, housing, education and employment, and victims issues. View the full FAQ series on reentry here.

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.