In 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.… Read More »
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 specifically:
- 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)
There are so many noteworthy aspects to the “first ever” Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. For example, it is grounded in the best evidence available to date and it examines issues of neurobiology, prevention, treatment, recovery, and health care systems. It also has educational and promotional materials such as fact sheets and social media ideas and resources. If you have not reviewed it – now is the time. It’s my understanding that additional fact sheets are forthcoming including one on criminal/juvenile justice populations. As such, keep visiting the website for updates and let’s keep talking about this report and its importance to individuals, families, and communities impacted by substance misuse and/or disorders.
I want to take a moment to discuss the chapter on prevention. The efforts we make each day with youth and families to provide education; supports, and services are likely preventing further consequences of substance use and involvement with juvenile/criminal justice systems. The Surgeon General’s report indicates that the “vast majority of people who misuse substances in the United States do not have a substance use disorder” (p. 3-4). This suggests that prevention efforts to educate and intervene about the potential harmful effects of substance misuse while offering healthy behavioral options might be sufficient for the majority of people. This is not to suggest that treatment options should be ignored; but rather, taking the time to respond to a young person’s needs using a continuum of services and supports is likely to be most effective.… Read More »
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 and 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?… Read More »
On 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.… Read More »
Acknowledged as the final signed legislation for President Obama’s Administration, the 21st Century Cures Act is important for behavioral health and juvenile justice. The key components of this Act include provisions for:
- Addressing the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic
- Providing funding for the BRAIN initiative and precision medicine
- Improving mental health care by increasing the availability of treatment and improving justice systems to ensure individuals in need of mental health services – actually get it
- Improving clinical trials
- Expanding cancer research and treatment efforts
In 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.… Read More »
Collaboration. A word we use a lot at Reclaiming Futures. Why? Because based on our fifteen years of working in jurisdictions across the country, collaboration can be an impactful catalyst for change. While the National Office puts collaboration into action regularly it was recently visibly demonstrated.
As you may know, Reclaiming Futures is part of the Regional Research Institute (RRI) at Portland State University. We are affiliated with such efforts as the National Wraparound Initiative, The Center to Advance Racial Equity, and Pathways Transition Training Partnership (PTTP). A few months ago, Evan Elkin, Christa Myers and I began conversations with Drs. Eileen Brennan and Pauline Jivanjee of PTTP to develop a joint webinar. Both groups understand the importance of collaboration between stakeholders in juvenile justice settings to improve the health and wellness of young people with substance use and/or mental health concerns. However, our focus for the webinar did not become immediately clear. We spent time examining our commonalities to decide the best topic for diverse fields and individuals (e.g., juvenile justice; behavioral health; community members). We decided to emphasize our respective work in the area of evidence-based practices.
To begin, here is a little about PTTP. PTTP was “developed to enhance the skills of service providers working with young people with serious mental health conditions and to provide information and tools for young people and their family members, service providers, researchers, and policy makers involved in developing and implementing effective transition-focused interventions, policies, and research.” One of the ways PTTP achieves this is by offering training and technical assistance is through free online training modules that address relevant topics such as engaging with youth and families, cultural responsiveness and intergenerational relationships, resiliency and developmental considerations.… Read More »
In 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.… Read More »
Reclaiming Futures is proud to support Youth Justice Awareness 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.”