It took decades and a mountain of research evidence showing that incarcerating adolescents does little to prevent recidivism before policymakers took notice and began supporting measures to reduce incarceration and invest in community-based alternatives that prioritize treatment and support for youth and their families. Increasingly, over the past 15 years, we have seen the field come together around the common goal of creating a system for justice-involved youth that is more therapeutic, less punitive, less reliant on detention and incarceration, and more thoroughly grounded in research evidence and best practice. The catalyst for this paradigm shift has been a series of significant strategic investments by federal agencies and by major foundations like Annie E. Casey with its Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, the MacArthur Foundation and its Models for Change, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) investment in Reclaiming Futures. These investments have all paid off in different ways to drive the field forward.
This month we are pleased to learn that investments in Reclaiming Futures made by RWJF, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) are now showing significant returns. A new report from the recent federally funded multi-site evaluation of Reclaiming Futures conducted by the University of Arizona shows evidence that implementing Reclaiming Futures in a treatment court setting reduces recidivism and produces significant cost savings. The report looked closely at five of our sites around the country and demonstrated that these sites saved more than $11 million in just one year, largely due to reductions in crime among youth participating in Reclaiming Futures programming.
As the field moves beyond the question of whether or not to invest in court diversion and alternatives to incarceration, the question becomes how best to implement and sustain strategies proven to reduce recidivism and improve both public health and public safety; Reclaiming Futures offers a compelling blueprint.