News from the National Executive Director, May 2017

by Evan Elkin

Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Evan ElkinSince the release of the OJJDP-funded national evaluation of Reclaiming Futures, we have made a significant effort to study the findings in order to understand which elements of our approach may be producing better outcomes for young people and which elements need improvement. One thing that stands out when you look at the Reclaiming Futures evaluation report  is that both the Reclaiming Futures cohort of sites and the comparison cohort – which was a very well-funded group of Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts – were very similar in that both consistently used evidence-based treatment practices.   

When Reclaiming Futures launched more than 15 years ago, it was considered innovative and forward-thinking that one of our key principles of practice was to support and cajole the local jurisdictions to adopt and sustain evidence-based treatment approaches. Now juvenile justice and other youth-serving systems widely accept the importance of evidence-based treatment approaches as a standard of practice in the field. In spite of the consensus around using evidence-based practices, the expansion of  treatment-focused diversion programs, and alternatives to incarceration, significant racial and ethnic disparities in youth outcomes continue to plague our system.

In this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter we reflect on the critical question of whether the evidence-based practices that we have adopted as a point of faith, in fact have the same level of effectiveness for all the youth we serve in the juvenile justice system, particularly youth of color. An important finding in the Reclaiming Futures national evaluation suggests that youth outcomes are significantly improved in settings where evidence-based practices are delivered in a manner sensitive to culture and gender. It is critically important then that we address the question of whether evidence-based treatment practices, including the research validated screening and assessment tools we have come to rely on in juvenile justice settings, are adequately responsive to the needs of youth of color.

For insights into this important discussion we draw your attention to a recent blog post by Reclaiming Futures’ own Bridget Murphy and to an important new report by the W. Haywood Burns Institute looking at the effectiveness of evidence-based practices with youth of color.

Evan Elkin

About

Evan Elkin is the executive director of Reclaiming Futures.

 

News from the National Executive Director, April 2017

by Evan Elkin

Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Evan ElkinNearly two decades ago, our nation’s juvenile justice system began to slowly shift the way we think about young people. The prevailing punitive and heavily racialized narrative about justice-involved youth that produced the infamous term “super-predator” has gradually given way to a new, more humanistic narrative. While we still have a long way to go, the field now looks at delinquent behavior through a more developmentally informed lens, is more willing to look at the root causes of racial disparities in the system, and understands that many youth arrive at the doorstep of the justice system with a history of significant trauma. Many jurisdictions now actively look for opportunities to divert low-risk youth from court and employ an array of treatment-oriented alternatives to incarceration for youth who need a therapeutic intervention.

Reclaiming Futures is proud to have played a lead role over the past 17 years in sensitizing juvenile justice jurisdictions to the importance of evidence-based and developmentally appropriate responses to substance use and behavioral health concerns, which do not widen the net and pull youth further into the justice system. Along the way, we’ve helped jurisdictions around the country to better engage families and mobilize community supports for youth. In recent years, we amplified our focus on addressing racial and ethnic disparities, in terms of both health and justice outcomes in the jurisdictions where we work. We are also piloting a cutting edge new framework to help juvenile treatment courts address disparities.

Another strategy for weaving treatment together with traditional juvenile court practices has been the juvenile drug treatment court (JDTC). JDTCs began as a pilot program, inspired by the success of adult drug courts, and then quickly grew into a significant presence in the field with nearly 500 JDTCs in juvenile justice jurisdictions across the country. JDTCs have grown exponentially in spite of very mixed research outcomes, a phenomenon which puzzles researchers and policy makers. Recently the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has sought to tackle this challenge and launched a new initiative geared to surfacing the most promising and evidence–supported practice elements from JDTCs across the country. As part of this initiative, OJJDP produced a new set of practice guidelines for JDTCs. The hope is that these new guidelines will lead to greater uniformity across jurisdictions and to closer adherence to practices that research has shown to produce better outcomes for youth. See this current blog post by our own Bridget Murphy for a discussion of the OJJDP Guidelines project and a recent RFP seeking pilot sites for a national evaluation.

At Reclaiming Futures we bring a public health-oriented framework and a set of cutting edge and evidence-based practices to our work with many JDTCs around the country. As a result, we have generated significantly strong outcomes in JDTCs where we’ve worked. The focus of our work and the principles behind the Reclaiming Futures approach closely match the new JDTC guidelines issued by OJJDP, and so we are greatly encouraged about the promise they hold, but we know first-hand what it takes to put principles and guidelines into effective action.

Evan Elkin

About

Evan Elkin is the executive director of Reclaiming Futures.

 

News from the National Executive Director, March 2017

by Evan Elkin

Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Evan ElkinIn this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter, we turn our attention to one of the most important threads in the juvenile justice reform narrative of the past 15 years: the debate regarding the age of adult responsibility in the criminal justice system. In the past decade, we have gained an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the neuroscience of adolescent behavior; this has transformed the way juvenile justice stakeholders view a delinquent youth’s culpability and has guided the field to question the efficacy of traditional juvenile justice responses to delinquency. Furthermore, a recent report by the Justice Policy Institute points out that cost-benefit studies have consistently contradicted the common anxiety that raising the age will flood the juvenile system with cases and generate unmanageable costs. Finally, there has been an increasing openness over the years to view court-involved youth in a less punitive, more humanistic and developmentally appropriate light that also accounts for the ways that adverse childhood experiences, and mental health and substance use problems, can drive the behaviors that get youth in trouble with the law. However, none of these shifts have moved the needle on the persistent racial and ethnic disparities that plague both the juvenile and adult justice systems. The executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, Marc Schindler, interviewed for a recent NPR piece on the role of race in the raise-the-age policy discussion and reminds us that the policies driving more youth into the adult criminal justice system have a disproportionate impact on youth of color.

Advocates and state policymakers have increasingly been able to leverage these insights to advance the raise-the-age conversation and, as a result, the number of states that automatically prosecute 16 and 17 year old youth in adult court has dropped 50% in ten years from 14 states to just 7 states. Other states, like Connecticut, have taken these insights and the adolescent brain development research to another level and have begun exploring the merits of raising the age to 21. Connecticut has truly been on the cutting edge in these discussions and recently launched an innovative pilot program that radically re-imagines incarceration for young adults up to the age of 25. At the other end of the continuum – and in spite of where the rest of the country seems to be moving – New York and North Carolina remain the only two states in the country to prosecute 16-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system. The fact that NYC continues to lock up 16-year-old adolescents in a violent and traumatizing setting like Rikers Island, and is still unable to mobilize the political will to raise the age, shows how far we still have to go to recognize the collateral consequences that these policies can have.

Evan Elkin

About

Evan Elkin is the executive director of Reclaiming Futures.

 

What’s in a Number? Age Considerations in Justice Decisions

by Bridget Murphy

Research shows that adolescents have a high propensity for engaging in risk taking activities given the significant changes in neurology, biology, and other developmental issues (e.g., social; cultural; familial) they experience. Specifically related to decision-making, science shows the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain is underdeveloped until a young person is well into their 20’s.  With these findings in mind, how should this influence the way we think about key juvenile justice policies and practices like the age of juvenile jurisdiction?

While developmental science has guided juvenile justice policies, it cannot be the only factor in determining the age at which young people are transferred to adult courts. Yet, the Supreme Court has used developmental science to guide its opinions in cases (e.g., Miller v. Alabama). Moreover, the committee that prepared the Reforming Juvenile Justice A Developmental Approach report argues for two guiding principles related to age of transfer policies including: proportionality and individualization (p. 134). They also argue for the importance of keeping the jurisdictions goals of crime prevention in the forefront. More spePAGE2-COURTROOMcifically:

  • Proportionality is the notion that a lower threshold for punishment for adolescents should be considered as compared to adults and young people should be offered alternatives to confinement
  • Individualization suggests that decisions about transferring youth to adult courts should be made based on multiple factors and not just arbitrary age limits. This may include type and severity of the law violation and other contextual factors
  • Crime prevention strategies should examine the policies and programs that support their goals. Studies have shown that confining young people does not prevent future re-offending, and in fact, can be counterproductive to crime prevention efforts. This is particularly true regarding confining young people in adult facilities given the opposing aspects for healthy adolescent development (e.g., isolation; possible victimization; potentially greater access to negative role models/adults; delays in academic progress)

Most states have the age for juvenile jurisdiction through 17 years old. However, five states have it set at 16 years old, and two at 15 years old. All states have transfer laws that require or provide discretion for making a determination to transfer a young person to adult courts. These can be complicated systems for decision-making, but proportionality, individualization, and the goals of crime prevention are likely to produce the best outcomes for youth, families, and communities.

Today some states, like Connecticut, are debating increasing the age of transfer to adult court to 21 years old. From an adolescent development perspective, this is a promising approach. The MacArthur Foundation recently released a brief that indicates that while research is limited, there appears to be differences in brain development for youth in the age group of 18 to 21 as compared to their younger or older counterparts. While the report acknowledges further research is needed, the brief recommends that justice policies and programs consider the unique developmental aspects of young people between the ages of 18-21 years old.

The Justice Policy Institute also recently released a report that examined state specific results of raising the age, which shows improved outcomes for youth, families, and state budgets.  For example, several states prepared fiscal notes that projected costs would increase if age of transfer was raised. However, states like Illinois, Connecticut and New Hampshire showed negligible fiscal increases and cost savings.  While North Carolina and New York are the only two states that have the age of transfer at 15 years old, lawmakers continue to debate the issues including the economic benefits. In fact, supporters of North Carolina’s House Bill 280 are communicating cost-benefit results that show state savings of $7 (actual dollars) to $50 (actual dollars and benefits to youth) million dollars per year.

Science and experience tell us that providing youth with positive, pro-social environments that encourage development of critical thinking through participation in healthy adult and peer relationships, fair and consistent boundaries, education, and gender and culturally responsive activities offers greater value to youth, families, and crime prevention efforts.

Reclaiming Futures sites work every day to ensure that young people are screened, assessed and services and supports are offered based on the youth and families individual needs. If youth become involved in the justice system, it makes sense that our responses, including what jurisdiction for which they are involved, are developmentally appropriate and grounded in evidence-based practices.

 

Bridget Murphy

About

Ms. Bridget Murphy understands behavioral health issues from personal, familial, and professional education and experiences. She joined the Reclaiming Futures National Program Office (NPO) as the Program and Policy Analyst and supports Reclaiming Futures sites by translating research into practice through training and technical assistance. She has more than two decades experience in the behavioral health field. Ms. Murphy has worked as a provider, project director/principal investigator, evaluator, consultant, and federal contractor. She has a particular interest in improving access to and quality of behavioral health services and its workforce through evidence-based practices, participant protections, peer and family recovery supports, integrated care, and participatory evaluation methods. Ms. Murphy has a master’s degree in education.

 

News from the National Executive Director, December 2016

by Evan Elkin

Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Evan ElkinOn December 13th, President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Cures Act. This sweeping legislative initiative is likely to be the final piece of legislation Barack Obama signs, and it is anything but an afterthought. The act is not without its critics, but some of the provisions of the 21st Century Cures ACT, for example those that pave the way for cross agency coordination, promise to reverberate in positive ways in the treatment field by accelerating the impact of research and innovation and catalyzing more collaborative work across government agencies and professional fields. For organizations like Reclaiming Futures whose mission includes efforts to bring systems together in the delivery of services to youth and families, this new set of laws is good news.

In this month’s Reclaiming Futures Newsletter, we draw your attention to this important piece of legislation and to a new blog post by Reclaiming Futures’ Bridget Murphy that highlights some of the key moving parts and implications that this important piece of legislation has for us in the field of substance use and behavioral health treatment.

Evan Elkin

About

Evan Elkin is the executive director of Reclaiming Futures.

 

H.R.6 – 21st Century Cures Act

by Bridget Murphy

Acknowledged as the final signed legislation for President Obama’s Administration, the 21st CeBridgetntury Cures Act is important for behavioral health and juvenile justice. The key components of this Act include provisions for:

In addition to the jurisdiction and community level supports, the Act provides structural changes to the way the government oversees and funds behavioral health. The 21st Century Cures Act includes developing a committee for federal agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Department of Justice to work together on behavioral health issues; it designates a new position – Assistance Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, and designates an advisory board for analyzing treatments and services.

I am optimistic this Act will help coordinate funding and improve behavioral health policy, improve practice to identify individuals in need of services, increase equitable access to evidence-based services and supports, reduce stigma associated with accessing services by celebrating those in recovery, and expand the availability of community-based treatment throughout the United States.

2017 is guaranteed to bring many changes. I hope this Act will offer the field the leadership, coordination, funding, and research that will help us continue to improve the work we do in partnership with youth, families, and communities.

Bridget Murphy

About

Ms. Bridget Murphy understands behavioral health issues from personal, familial, and professional education and experiences. She joined the Reclaiming Futures National Program Office (NPO) as the Program and Policy Analyst and supports Reclaiming Futures sites by translating research into practice through training and technical assistance. She has more than two decades experience in the behavioral health field. Ms. Murphy has worked as a provider, project director/principal investigator, evaluator, consultant, and federal contractor. She has a particular interest in improving access to and quality of behavioral health services and its workforce through evidence-based practices, participant protections, peer and family recovery supports, integrated care, and participatory evaluation methods. Ms. Murphy has a master’s degree in education.

 

News from the National Executive Director, November 2016

by Evan Elkin

Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Evan ElkinIn this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter, we draw your attention to a new report issued by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on November 17, 2016.  The report is significant because it marks the first time a United States Surgeon General has taken such a clear and strong position that substance use and addiction should be viewed first and foremost as a public health issue.  This is a position many advocates and organizations, like Reclaiming Futures, have taken for many years because we know firsthand the collateral consequences of continuing to view substance use and addiction as a moral failing and as a matter for the criminal justice system, and not the public health system and/or through a racially biased lens.

We know from our own work and national evaluation results that partnering with juvenile justice systems across the country to adopt a public health lens and replacing punitive responses with science-based, humanistic, and community-driven treatment alternatives, attending to issues of equity in access to care and justice, not only leads to better health outcomes for youth, but reduces recidivism and saves significant taxpayer dollars that could be reinvested in community-based treatment alternatives.

The Surgeon General’s report is encouraging and the potential policy and national public health implications of the Surgeon General’s position are enormous, but only if there continues to be high level government support and investment in continued reforms to the way we view and respond to substance use and mental health treatment needs in this country.

Evan Elkin

About

Evan Elkin is the executive director of Reclaiming Futures.

 

News from the National Executive Director, October 2016

by Evan Elkin

Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Evan ElkinIn this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter, we reflect on President Obama’s proclamation
which, for the second year in a row, makes October National Youth Justice Awareness Month. President Obama’s focus on juvenile justice has been impressive, but it is important that the field does not become complacent as we contemplate what the future holds for juvenile justice reform.

These past several years have seen something of a perfect storm for those involved in improving youth justice policy and practice; we cannot assume this will continue into the next administration. At Reclaiming Futures we are cognizant of the fact that we’ve been operating in a very favorable political climate, driven by a president who advocates for reform in the strongest terms; we have had policy makers like OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee, who puts scientific evidence first, and has been a voice for humanism and equity for the field; and more than ever before, the research evidence – both from adolescent brain science and the program evaluation literature – supports the view that our juvenile justice systems must stop over relying on the detention and incarceration of adolescents, in favor of community-based alternatives that reflect what we know about adolescent development and that address the treatment needs of youth.

As the field prepares for the next chapter in the juvenile justice reform story, we draw your attention to an important new report co-authored by Annie E. Casey Foundation President Patrick McCarthy, Harvard University’s Vincent Schiraldi and Miriam Shark that reminds us all of the work still to be done and makes a strong case for continuing to invest in community alternatives for young people who touch the justice system.

Click here to read the report. 

Evan Elkin

About

Evan Elkin is the executive director of Reclaiming Futures.

 

October 2016 is Youth Justice Awareness/Action Month

by Bridget Murphy

Reclaiming Futures is proud to support Youth Justice Awabridget's blog postreness Month. As such, we asked Mr. Brian Evans, the State’s Campaign Director at Campaign for Youth Justice to tell us about its history and purpose. Mr. Evans told us:

Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) started back in 2008, when Tracy McClard, a mother from Missouri who lost her son to suicide in an adult jail, organized a 5K race in October to raise awareness about the harmful practice of treating children as adults in the criminal justice system. Each October since then, YJAM has seen more activities and more events highlighting what is wrong with trying kids as adults. Film screenings, panel discussion, art exhibitions, and more ambitious endeavors like Tracy’s bike ride across the state of Missouri last year, have all drawn attention to and helped build a growing consensus that we need to reform the way we approach youth justice.

As President Obama said this year in his second annual proclamation of Youth Justice Awareness Month: “When we invest in our children and redirect young people who have made misguided decisions, we can reduce our over-reliance on the juvenile and criminal justice systems and build stronger pathways to opportunity.”

Since the first YJAM in 2008, we have seen increased awareness lead to concrete action. Over the past decade around 30 states have passed legislation keeping young people out of the adult criminal justice system. So this year, we YJAM is being re-branded as Youth Justice Action Month. More and more it has become apparent that we know what the problems are. Now, it is time for advocates, legislators, and governments to take action.

Out of grief, a mother took action that has turned into awareness and presidential acknowledgement. The re-branding of the “A” in YJAM is very appropriate – as Ms. McClard has demonstrated. We ask, what are your local communities doing this month to demonstrate a commitment to youth justice?

Maya Angelou said: “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Reclaiming Futures recognizes and celebrates Ms. McClard and the committed staff at Campaign for Youth Justice. We ask our Reclaiming Futures partners to consider bringing local awareness and action to YJAM by:

  • Hosting a local town hall meeting on the issues of detention, out-of-home placements, recidivism, racial and ethnic disparities and costs that includes community stakeholders such as education, behavioral health, justice, healthcare, commerce, and political leaders
  • Writing a blog or an opinion post on these issues
  • Collaborating with the local juvenile justice administrators to develop one or a series of in-service trainings
Bridget Murphy

About

Ms. Bridget Murphy understands behavioral health issues from personal, familial, and professional education and experiences. She joined the Reclaiming Futures National Program Office (NPO) as the Program and Policy Analyst and supports Reclaiming Futures sites by translating research into practice through training and technical assistance. She has more than two decades experience in the behavioral health field. Ms. Murphy has worked as a provider, project director/principal investigator, evaluator, consultant, and federal contractor. She has a particular interest in improving access to and quality of behavioral health services and its workforce through evidence-based practices, participant protections, peer and family recovery supports, integrated care, and participatory evaluation methods. Ms. Murphy has a master’s degree in education.

 

News from the National Executive Director, September 2016

by Evan Elkin

Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Evan ElkinAs Reclaiming Futures enters its 16th year of operation, we reflect on our unique contributions to the juvenile justice reform efforts of the past couple decades. What is most concretely evident to the field is our public health oriented approach and the creation of an accessible stepwise model, designed for juvenile justice settings, to organize the way they identify treatment need and then deliver developmentally appropriate and evidence-based treatment responses that are then sustained by community supports. In order to make our six-step approach work at the local level, we partner with jurisdictions to break down silos and build authentic collaboration across a number of systems that serve youth.

In creating and disseminating this approach, Reclaiming Futures sets a higher standard for treatment practice in youth justice settings. Our recent OJJDP-funded national evaluation shows that, in the case of juvenile treatment courts, the Reclaiming Futures approach may make the difference between a treatment court that doesn’t consistently meet the treatment needs of its participating youth and one that not only improves treatment access and treatment matching, but then produces significant cost savings.

What is much less apparent to the field is the “collective impact” strategy that has been the bread and butter of the Reclaiming Futures practice for the past 15 years: Reclaiming Futures operates a national multi-disciplinary learning collaborative consisting of jurisdictions across the country. This collaborative functions as a peer support network, a resource bank, a communication and learning platform, but more than anything else, as a space to build a common reform agenda and shared mission.

This past year, Jeffrey Butts, Director of John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center, released a report: Reclaiming Futures and Organizing Justice for Drug-Using Youth. The report examines the role our collective impact strategy plays in the jurisdictions where we’ve worked. In this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter we highlight a new blog post by our own Bridget Murphy who reviews Dr. Butts’ report.

Evan Elkin

About

Evan Elkin is the executive director of Reclaiming Futures.