News Release – September 24, 2007

Report challenges justice system to enlist families, communities to help teens struggling with drugs, alcohol and crime

Portland, OR (September 24, 2007) — A national group of community leaders today released a report detailing how families, community members, judges, probation officers and treatment professionals can better help teens in trouble with drugs, alcohol and crime. The authors, part of the Reclaiming Futures initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, share lessons learned in the report, Moving Toward Equal Ground: Engaging the capacity of youth, families and communities to improve treatment services and outcomes in the juvenile justice system.

The authors contend that in order to help youth successfully overcome drugs, alcohol and crime, juvenile justice systems need to do a better job of engaging families and community members early in treatment and after-care. The report describes how families and community members can connect these youth with mentors, jobs, school, community service and other supports as well as advocate for effective drug and alcohol treatment for youth in the justice system.

“Families and community members have the right to be involved and need to be involved in all aspects of helping youth in the justice system who struggle with alcohol and drug use,” said Laura Nissen, Ph.D., Reclaiming Futures national program director. “They can shape the way the system treats these youth, and provide the positive social opportunities needed to keep them out of trouble.”

The report focuses on lessons learned during the formation of the Reclaiming Futures project and model tested in 10 communities during the past five years. The authors include parents and community leaders from the 10 communities who worked together during the five-year period to ensure that family and community engagement was integrated throughout the model.

The Reclaiming Futures approach screens each teen for drug and alcohol problems, assesses the severity of their drug and alcohol use, and provides prompt access to a treatment plan coordinated by a service team. Reclaiming Futures also connects teens with employers, mentors, and volunteer service projects.

A recent independent evaluation by the Urban Institute and the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall Center for Children found that participating communities report that Reclaiming Futures has improved the coordination and quality of substance abuse interventions for teens involved with the juvenile justice system.

“Across America, families and community members – the people who are most important to these youth and most invested in their success – are too often shut out of the system,” said Alan Robichaud, a Reclaiming Futures community representative from New Hampshire who helped write the report. “Reclaiming Futures communities are creating an equal partnership among families, communities and service systems.”

The report from Reclaiming Futures community fellows includes case studies of successful community-based programs, including the following.

  • In Dayton, Ohio, a thriving Natural Helpers program trains volunteers to become mentors with youth who are working to recover from drugs, alcohol and crime.
  • Community members helped get a drug and alcohol treatment facility located in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, so that teens could get treatment without having to travel through rival gang territory.
  • On the Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the community established a new youth center where teens can have positive social interactions, away from drugs and alcohol. Tribal elders serve as role models, sharing Lakota stories and traditions.
  • In the mountains of Southeastern Kentucky, the Masonic Lodge hosts a “Hooked on Fishing” program for boys involved in the justice system, while the Women’s Club is mentoring at-risk middle school girls.
  • In Portland, Oregon, community leaders have shared stories of their own teenage struggles and encouraged adults to serve as mentors through the “When You Were 15” project.
  • The report can be read in its entirety at

    About Reclaiming Futures
    Reclaiming Futures is an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that offers a new approach to helping teenagers caught in the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime. Its 10 communities include: Anchorage, Alaska.; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Chicago, Ill.; four counties in Southeastern Kentucky; Marquette, Mich.; the state of New Hampshire; the Sovereign Tribal Nation of Sicangu Lakota in Rosebud, South Dakota; Dayton, Ohio; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle, Wash. The national office of Reclaiming Futures is housed in the Regional Research Institute of the Graduate School of Social Work at Portland State University. Visit

    About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 30 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. Visit