‘15 to Life’ Chronicles Quest for Release of Man Sentenced to Life at Age 15

Kenneth Young at his resentencing hearing, with his mother and niece in the background.

A riveting new PBS documentary, "15 to Life: Kenneth's Story," traces one young man's quest for release from prison after he was sentenced to four consecutive life terms without parole. JJIE speaks with the documentary's director, Nadine Pequeneza, about the making of the film, Kenneth Young's case and how his experience is emblematic of a juvenile justice system struggling to find a balance among rehabilitation, modern behavioral science and the United States' "tough-on-crime" culture. Young is just one of the more than 2,500 people convicted as a juvenile that are now serving life sentences in the United States. Continue Reading →

Evidence-Based ‘Gold Standard’: Coveted, Yet Controversial


It seemed a throwback to the days of the country doctor: Go to the patients instead of having them come to you. As a young intern in the pediatrics department at the University of Virginia’s medical school in the mid-1970s, Scott Henggeler got that advice from his supervisor, a social worker on staff. He heeded it, taking the department’s van out for house calls into the natural beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in the Charlottesville area and soon had an epiphany about the folly of trying to treat some of the most troubled youngsters in an office setting. “I visited probably about six, seven homes, and in each case, all it really took was to just set foot inside the door and you realized how goofy your academic treatment plan was,” Henggeler told JJIE. “Doing the home-based stuff just removed the barriers, really removed most of the barriers and helped you better engage with the families, but also very importantly, you got much more accurate assessment data. Continue Reading →

The Skinny on Evidence-Based Practices

Evidence-based Practices at the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub

Social scientist Robert Martinson famously concluded in 1974 that “nothing works” to change the behavior of people encountering the justice system. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then. Policymakers and system stakeholders now have an ever-growing set of policies, practices and programs that help youth in trouble with the law change their behavior and make communities safer. And far-sighted policymakers have invested heavily in evidence-based practices in a number of states. Examples include Connecticut and Nebraska (where advocates like the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance and Voices for Children in Nebraska, along with their allies, played a role in the adoption of evidence-based practices). Continue Reading →