Helping Young People Get Treatment in Juvenile Justice and Beyond

by Susan Richardson

Focal Point magazine, produced by the Pathways Research and Training Center (RTC) at Portland State University, recently published a collaborative article [PDF] between current and former Reclaiming Futures staff and partners examining how the Reclaiming Futures model saves money, reduces recidivism and improves abstinence from drug and alcohol abuse.

The article’s introduction is included below:

Why focus on the juvenile justice system? Despite the fact that most juvenile justice-involved young people are not being treated for substance abuse and mental health needs, the juvenile justice system is still the single largest referral source for adolescent treatment and this system is where young people in trouble often first come to our attention. Young people involved in the juvenile justice system often are challenged with substance use issues.

Nationally, about half of young people in the juvenile justice system have drug related problems. In fact, four of five young people in the juvenile justice system are under the influence of alcohol or drugs while breaking the law; test positive for drugs; are arrested for committing an alcohol or drug offense; admit having substance abuse and addiction problems; or share some combination of these characteristics.

Additionally, many young people in the juvenile justice system have a co-occurring disorder (both substance abuse and mental health). Yet in spite of research that shows treatment helps reduce recidivism and saves money, juvenile courts usually are not set up to detect and treat substance abuse or to provide mental health and other important services.

Instead, most of the young people in the juvenile justice system who need treatment for drugs, alcohol, and mental health problems are not getting it. Fewer than one in twelve young people who need such supports actually receive treatment of any kind. For those who receive treatment, less than half are retained for 90 days as recommended by research. Many communities are not using evidence-based treatments that have been tested in the field for many years.

Young people need different care than adults: care that addresses adolescent development and brain science, and that utilizes support from families and community. Too many juvenile courts mirror a more punitive approach appropriate to adult criminal court rather than the rehabilitative civil court envisioned when the juvenile court was first established in the late nineteeth century.

The good news is that there’s already a solution to the issues outlined above: Reclaiming Futures! We know from our evaluations that the Reclaiming Futures model helps teens overcome the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime by addressing their co-occurring needs. Again from the article, "The Reclaiming Futures JTDC model has potential to increase drug and alcohol abstinence, reduce young people’s illegal activity, and reduce the cost of crime to society." 

Learn more about the Reclaiming Futures model here >>

For the rest of the article, jump to page 18 in the linked PDF for our Reclaiming Futures article, or scroll through the whole magazine for more great articles about co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues facing teens and young adults.


Susan Richardson is national executive director for Reclaiming Futures. Formerly, she was a senior program officer in the health care division of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina, where she led a three-year effort involving the state’s juvenile justice and treatment leaders to adopt the Reclaiming Futures model by juvenile courts in six North Carolina counties. She received her B.S. in Public Health, Health Policy and Administration, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.