In this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter, we focus our attention on the question that has preoccupied many of us in recent months: What will be the impact of the new presidential administration on juvenile justice policy? In this uncertain time, the field of juvenile justice should certainly be concerned about funding, but many of us are more concerned about protecting the significant progress we’ve made as a field to humanize and improve juvenile justice policy and practice over the last two decades.
In the twenty years that I’ve worked in juvenile justice and behavioral health, we’ve seen a revolution in the use of juvenile detention thanks to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. We’ve also seen a major shift in the way we view adolescent misbehavior; and with research advances and greater integration of knowledge from the fields of developmental psychology and brain science, we’ve managed to dig ourselves out the dark ages and stop viewing young people as super-predators. Finally, we have begun to see an increased willingness to seek honest, practical and data-driven solutions to the chronic racial and ethnic disparities that continue to plague our juvenile justice system. Owing in part to the hard work we’ve done here at Reclaiming Futures over the past 15 years, there is now an accepted blueprint that allows the field to prioritize treatment and community alternatives over punishment for youth who enter the system with substance use and mental health problems. Will the field be able to maintain this hard-won progress?
There are no easy answers with regard to what lies ahead with a president who has no formal track record on the issues the field of juvenile justice reform has grappled with for decades. We at Reclaiming Futures encourage you to avail yourselves of the wisdom of colleagues like Shay Bilchik and Barry Krisberg who offer some great insights into what we might expect in the coming year. As the juvenile justice field prepares for challenging times ahead, consider the strength of this new, more humanistic, juvenile justice paradigm we’ve constructed together. Remember that even if the pendulum begins to swing again, or if juvenile justice faces a prolonged period of meager funding, it will be impossible to un-know what we’ve learned these past 15 years.