OP-ED: 10 Lessons for Juvenile Justice Field from Texas Study

by Cecilia Bianco

nate-balisReprinted with permission from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE.org).

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center released a groundbreaking report today that provides important insights to guide the next steps for the nation’s second-largest state to reform its juvenile justice system. The report, “Closer to Home: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms,” not only has great value in the Lone Star State, it also delivers important lessons for the juvenile justice field in communities across the U.S.

From my perch at a national foundation with a longstanding focus on juvenile justice reform throughout the nation, that is my primary interest:

What are the national implications of this research for the juvenile justice field? Following is my attempt to answer that question, focused on 10 key takeaways.

1. The report shows that dramatically decreasing the population of youth confined in state juvenile corrections facilities is good public policy.

CSG found that Texas youth released from state institutions were: 21 percent more likely to be arrested within 12 months than comparable youth who remained under the supervision of county probation departments and three times more likely to face felony charges if arrested. These findings were controlled for offending history, demographics and other relevant factors. CSG reports that the average cost of a stay in state custody exceeded $200,000.

Texas is not an anomaly. These results confirm the already overwhelming evidence that in virtually every recidivism study, the vast majority of youth released from large, state-run correctional institutions are rearrested within two or three years of release, and one-third or more are reincarcerated in a juvenile facility or adult prison.

Research also consistently finds that state-funded youth corrections facilities are dangerous, unnecessary, obsolete and inadequate for the serious mental health, educational and social service needs faced by many court-involved youth.

2. The CSG report shows that contrary to commonly held fears, there is not a substantial population of superdangerous youth beyond the capacity of counties to supervise.

CSG found no difference statistically between the population of youth committed to state-run secure facilities and those placed under the supervision of their county juvenile probation departments. Youth committed to state custody “look no different than many of those who are kept in their communities,” CSG commented. “This tends to suggest that many more of the committed youth could just as successfully be rehabilitated under the supervision of the county juvenile probation department.”

3. Moreover, the report shows that although placing youth into local residential facilities is preferable to incarceration in state facilities (or, even worse, in adult prisons), it is still a poor investment of taxpayer dollars.Adjusting for offense history and other variables, CSG found that youth placed into county-funded residential facilities did no better (and often worse) than equivalent youth who were allowed to remain at home.

In fact, while the result was not statistically significant, CSG found that the best outcomes were achieved by youth placed into nonresidential programs focused on skill building. On average, county-funded residential placements cost twice as much as the mean among all youth placed under county supervision (roughly $15,000 vs. $7,300). Removing young people from their homes should be the exception for court-involved youth, not the routine.

4. Clearer state rules and direction are needed to encourage more investment in effective nonresidential programs.

As it reduced the state custody populations and closed several state facilities in recent years, Texas has sharply increased state support to county probation agencies — providing more than $140 million in new state funding from 2007 to 2013.

However, Texas allocated the bulk of these funds with few strings attached, and CSG reports that counties have spent most of the new money on residential facilities rather than nonresidential community services. This trend is worrisome and counterproductive — an indication that state leadership is required to steer counties toward best practice and away from overreliance on residential placements.

5. The key to success for local juvenile justice systems does not lie in more programs alone, but rather in more calibrated, more consistent decisions in the handling of individual cases.

Experience shows that, in the absence of comprehensive system reform, more and better programs are not the solution to the challenges of juvenile justice — even when programs are well-designed and well-intentioned. Rather, success requires a coordinated system that places the right youth into the right program (or no program) for the right reasons, a system characterized by collaboration, effective use of data, careful attention to research and results and vigilant attention to racial and ethnic equity.

6. For the very small number of youth who require a period of residential custody, long stays in custody are unnecessary and wasteful.

CSG data showed that overall rearrest rates were lower from county-funded residential facilities than from state facilities and felony recidivism and subsequent incarceration were dramatically lower.

Yet, the average length of stay was just 3.5 months for youth in county-run secure care facilities and 4.1 months for nonsecure facilities, compared with an 18-month average for youth incarcerated in state-run juvenile facilities. This result corroborates the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Pathways to Desistance study and a 2014 National Academies of Science report, both of which found that longer periods of confinement do nothing to improve recidivism outcomes for incarcerated youth.

7. Pervasive racial and ethnic disparities plaguing juvenile justice systems nationwide will not be remedied without an intentional and unwavering focus.

Despite the encouraging drop in the overall population of youth in state facilities, Texas has not made any progress in reducing racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile confinement. Indeed, the share of adjudicated youth committed to state custody fell slightly faster for white youth from 2005 to 2012 than it did for black or Hispanic youth.

8. Local courts and probation agencies frequently deviate from best practice in their handling of juvenile cases.

CSG also conducted extensive interviews and fact-finding in eight large counties, documenting a number of problematic trends plaguing local probation efforts. Despite powerful evidence that juvenile justice interventions work best when they target intensive services to high-risk offenders, a substantial share (40 to 91 percent) of low-risk youth served by probation in the eight counties were placed into one or more treatment, surveillance or skill-building programs, while a substantial majority of high-risk youth were not placed into any program or residential facility. In six of the eight counties lower-risk youth remained in these programs longer than their high-risk peers. Meanwhile, CSG found, many youth “with acute needs did not receive programs that might have benefitted them.”

9. The CSG study’s most enduring value may be its largely unprecedented examination of local probation agencies.

As part of its analysis, CSG examined the recidivism results for probation youth in 30 Texas counties, finding that nine of the counties suffered significantly worse results than predicted by objective indicators, while eight demonstrated far better than anticipated results. Clearly, how counties operate their juvenile probation systems exerts a powerful impact on success.

10. Developing reliable data and strong state leadership are critical in improving juvenile justice practices and maximizing success at the local level.

The valuable lessons produced by the Closer to Home study show how important data can be in advancing our understanding of what works (and doesn’t) in juvenile justice. And the unanswered questions raised by the report point to the need for even deeper ongoing data analysis to measure outcomes and continuously improve programs and practices in light of emerging evidence.

And thanks to rapid advances in the study of criminology, adolescent behavior and brain science, the juvenile justice field has been flooded over the past two decades with an overwhelming volume of valuable new information. These advances have created enormous opportunities for improvements, but they have also presented system professionals throughout the nation with an uphill struggle to adopt the new knowledge in practical ways on the ground.

Local courts and probation agencies need guidance, they need training and they need proper incentives if they are to make rapid progress in adopting best practices. State leaders in all three branches of government can and should play a central role in creating the conditions to nurture local progress.

Nate Balis is director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.


Trying to Fix America’s Broken Juvenile Justice System; News Roundup

by Cecilia Bianco

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Trying to Fix America’s Broken Juvenile Justice System (Rolling Stone)
    As Congress begins its new session, youth advocates are looking forward to the passage of a bipartisan bill that would strengthen protections for young people involved in the juvenile justice system.
  • Whistleblowers Say DOJ Grants Failed To Protect Kids Behind Bars (NPR)
    There’s new scrutiny this year on a federal program that’s supposed to protect juveniles in the criminal justice system. Senate lawmakers want to pass a bill that would ensure young people are not locked up alongside adult offenders — and they’re quietly investigating the use of federal grant money for the program.
  • New Campaign Seeks to Sharply Reduce Youth Incarceration (JJIE)
    The Youth First! Initiative — founded by longtime juvenile justice advocate Liz Ryan — will also seek to reduce rampant racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile incarceration.

Jobs, Grants, Events and Webinars

  • Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It’s free to browse and post!

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health

  • UF study of drug users finds people with ADHD started using at younger age (UFL News)
    Adults with a history of ADHD who use drugs started using substances one to two years earlier than those with no ADHD history, according to a new University of Florida study. The findings highlight the need for earlier substance-use-prevention interventions in adolescents with ADHD, researchers say.
  • Teens in more control during school-based suicide prevention (The Globe and Mail)
    Dr. Danuta Wasserman, a professor of psychiatry at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said the program was likely successful because students “felt that the power of mastering their feelings, coping with stress and choosing solutions was in their hands and not decided or forced by adults.”
  • Teen ‘Pharming’ Is a Rising Concern (Psych Central)
    A new review suggests new initiatives are needed to address the rise of “pharming,” or recreational use and abuse of prescription drugs, among teenagers.

Introducing Candice Moore as New North Carolina Project Director

by Susan Richardson

Formerly a project director for the Crossroads site in North Carolina (representing Surry, Iredell, and Yadkin Counties), Candice Moore will lead North Carolina’s State Reclaiming Futures Office, which currently includes 14 Reclaiming Futures sites in 29 counties.

Moore’s professional experience with Reclaiming Futures stretches back to when she was oneCandice Moore of the original grant writers that helped lay the groundwork for the model in the Crossroads site.

In 2008, with investment from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust (KBR), North Carolina established a six site Reclaiming Futures pilot. Due to the progress made by these sites, North Carolina established a public-private partnership with support from the NC Division of Juvenile Justice, KBR and the Governor’s Crime Commission to launch the first state office of Reclaiming Futures. In 2013, The Duke Endowment funded four additional sites and KBR funded two more.

As a project director for Reclaiming Futures’ Crossroads site, Moore worked with both urban and rural sites, three different judicial districts, multiple judges and more than 10 providers.

“That really taught me how to maneuver and facilitate multiple sites. My work as a project director showed me how to pull people together and be an effective boundary-spanner,” explains Moore. Prior to her work with Reclaiming Futures, Moore worked on the juvenile justice side as a court counselor, which has also strengthened her collaboration with counselors now.

The state office will continue to be stationed in Raleigh, where Moore will spend part of her time, but she will lead the bulk of the work from her office in Winston-Salem, where KBR and the evaluation team are also situated.

Moore will be accompanied by a new second position that will focus on data management and quality improvement for juvenile justice and Reclaiming Futures in North Carolina.

“My goals for my new position are to ensure that the features of the Reclaiming Futures model are institutionalized across the state of North Carolina—meaning that we set comprehensive training plans, strengthen partnerships among our agencies, ensure fidelity, measure outcomes, and implement evidence-based practices,” explains Moore. “Once we establish that, the long-range plan is to expand the model to all 100 North Carolina counties.”

Below is a snapshot of the impact of North Carolina sites since January 2013:

  • 7,888 (82.6% of eligible youth) were screened using the GAIN-SS
  • 906 youth completed a full assessment (80% indicated the need for treatment)
  • 72.5% of youth in need of treatment successfully initiated treatment. 70% of those initiating treatment did so within the 14 days targeted by the model.
  • 86.4% of youth that initiated treatment fully engaged in services.
  • 35% of these youth discharged from treatment successfully completed treatment and 15% were referred for additional treatment

The improvement in local processes is resulting in positive outcomes for youth. Of youth discharged:

  • 61.3% were involved in pro-social activities
  • 85.3% had one or more positive adult relationship
  • 80.0% reduced or abstained from substance use
  • 71.0% improved mental health functioning

We’re thrilled to welcome Candice into her new role leading the State Office for Reclaiming Futures in North Carolina, and look forward to continuing the positive momentum she and her predecessor Jessica Jones put into motion.

Opportunity Board Roundup: Juvenile Justice Grants, Jobs, Webinars and Events

by Cecilia Bianco

opportunityBelow you’ll find a selection of the latest grants, jobs, webinars and events posted to our Opportunity Board. Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It’s free to browse and post!





Project Reset: Counseling vs. Court for Teens’ Minor Crimes

by Cecilia Bianco

courtroomA new pilot program in New York, tentatively called Project Reset, will offer first-time low-level teenage offenders a deal: Enter a counseling program run by the Center for Court Innovation and the charges will be dropped before arraignment.

Project Reset hopes to build on the success of a 2013 diversion program for teens in the Brooklyn arraignment court, which diverted more than 160 teens charged with minor crimes into counseling in its first year.

The goal of the new program is to intervene even earlier than the 2013 program and offer first-time offenders an opportunity to go to counseling before they appear in court. Additionally, Project Reset can help divert teens from the criminal justice system, as New York is one of the few states that charge 16 and 17 year olds as adults.

Eligible youth will be required to go to two afternoon sessions of counseling at community justice centers—leaving them with no criminal record upon completion of the sessions.

Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. is an advocate of diverting teens to counseling, stating that “a young person who had done nothing more serious than fail to pay a subway fare should not receive a trip downtown and a docket number, but a real intervention in his life, to put him on a positive path forward.”

There is a growing effort in New York to reduce the number of low-level offenders “clogging the courts,” as reported by the New York Times:

“[Brooklyn district attorney] Kenneth P. Thompson announced last year that his office would no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has sharply curtailed the practice of stopping pedestrians and frisking them for weapons and drugs in high-crime neighborhoods, which critics maintain discriminates against minorities.”

The program will start next month in two police precincts—the 25th on the Upper West Side and the 73rd in Brownsville, Brooklyn—and will be evaluated after three to six months.

Public Health Approach Being Adapted for Kids in Trouble with Substances, the Law; News Roundup

by Cecilia Bianco

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • New York Under Pressure For Locking Up Teens In Adult Prisons (KQED)
    New York is one of only two states that still locks up 16- and 17-year-olds in adult prisons. A commission report released this week found that those young people — most of them black and Hispanic — face a high risk of assault and victimization behind bars and an increased risk of suicide. Gov. Andrew Cuomo now says he’ll push the legislature to raise the age of adult incarceration to 18, a move that could mean the transfer of more than 800 teenagers out of state correctional facilities.

Jobs, Grants, Events and Webinars

  • Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It’s free to browse and post!

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health

  • Parties hopeful meeting cleared air on youth drug court in Jacksonville (Jacksonville.com)
    A plan to improve years of low participation in Jacksonville’s juvenile drug court could be finalized in as little as 30 days. The federal government sent four experts to Jacksonville on Wednesday and Thursday to meet with key players in the court and help with program implementation.

Webinar Opportunity: Updating JJDPA to Reflect New Reforms

by Susan Richardson

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), enacted in 1974 and reauthorizedcjj-logo-2015in 2002, has made strides in setting standards for state and local juvenile justice systems, and providing state funding, training and evaluation. This important legislation and its reauthorizations have continued to protect youth, increase access to prevention and treatment services, and reduce transfers to the adult criminal justice system.

njjn-logoThough JJDPA has remained strong, the juvenile justice field has evolved in a way that requires the legislation to evolve and adapt.

On February 15, 2015, The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) will host a webinar addressing this. “The JJDPA: Updating Federal Law to Reflect New Reforms” will bring together national leaders in juvenile justice and policymakers, including CJJ, the executive director for Juvenile Law Center, and the Office of US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

CJJ states, “Please join us for an overview of how this legislation has helped drive reform at the state and local levels. We will also discuss how we can help ensure that federal policy reflects the new knowledge, advancements, and promising practices from the field, and how a reauthorized JJDPA might change the future landscape of juvenile justice practice.”

This webinar will be valuable for juvenile justice professionals, policymakers, advocates and allies in the fields of juvenile justice to understand how the federal landscape of juvenile justice may evolve.

Register here for the webinar.

Webinar Details

  • What: The JJDPA: Updating Federal Law to Reflect New Reforms
  • When: February 5, 2015 at 3:00pm ET
  • Hosted by: CJJ and the National Juvenile Justice Network.
  • Presenters:
    • Lara Quint, Legislative Counsel, Office of US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
    • Bob Schwartz, Executive Director, Juvenile Law Center
    • Naomi Smoot, Senior Policy Associate, Coalition for Juvenile Justice
  • Register: Register here

Opportunity Board Roundup: Juvenile Justice Grants, Jobs, Webinars and Events

by Cecilia Bianco

opportunityBelow you’ll find a selection of the latest grants, jobs, webinars and events posted to our Opportunity Board. Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It’s free to browse and post!





New Cost-Benefit Analysis Toolkit to Help Evaluate Justice Policies & Programs

by Cecilia Bianco

cbaA new toolkit, published by the Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit (CBAU) at the Vera Institute of Justice, will help guide government agencies as they assess their justice investments: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Justice Policy Toolkit.

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is an evaluation technique that compares the costs of programs with the benefits they deliver—allowing agencies to determine the best use of budget regarding justice policies and programs.

Advocates of juvenile justice reform can use CBA briefs to spark change, as the briefs can serve as concrete examples to share with policy and decision makers when encouraging investments.

This new toolkit outlines the six fundamental steps of conducting a CBA:

  1. Identify the investment’s potential impacts.
  2. Quantify the investment’s impacts.
  3. Determine marginal costs.
  4. Calculate costs, benefits, and net present value.
  5. Test the assumptions.
  6. Report the results.

The toolkit provides real word lessons and examples from six municipal, county, and state agencies in each step and is designed to guide justice analysts, especially those who are new to CBA.

Note: This project was supported by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Rikers to Ban Isolation for Inmates 21 and Younger; News Roundup

by Cecilia Bianco

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Program Strives To Keeps Kids Out Of Jail, Link Them To Services Instead (Hartford Courant)
    “The longer a child stays out of the juvenile justice system, the better the outcome is for that child,” said Bernadette Conway, who is the state’s chief administrative judge for juvenile matters.” Avoidable school-based arrests needlessly deprive children of an optimum education and all too often grossly compromise a child’s ability to succeed in life.”
  • Rikers to Ban Isolation for Inmates 21 and Younger (New York Times)
    New York City officials agreed on Tuesday to a plan that would eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that would place the long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Jobs, Grants, Events and Webinars

  • Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It’s free to browse and post!

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health

  • This Is What Happens When We Lock Children in Solitary Confinement (Mother Jones)
    While in isolation, Kenny—who was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder prior to the sixth grade—wrote to his mother, Melissa Bucher, begging her to make the two-hour drive to visit him. “I don’t feel like I’m going to make it anymore,” he wrote. “I’m in seclusion so I can’t call and I’m prolly going to be in here for a while. My mind is just getting to me in here.”
  • Teens Influenced by Misconceptions of Their Peers (Medical News Today)
    Research published in Developmental Psychology suggests that teenagers tend to overestimate the amount of drugs and alcohol that their peers use, as well as underestimating the amount of studying and exercise they do.
  • Eight Local Health Providers, UWM Respond to Gun Violence at Schools (BizTimes.com)
    Through a federal grant created to help communities respond to gun violence at schools, eight regional behavioral health providers and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee are working to strengthen trauma and substance abuse counseling services for youth.