Ben Chambers On What Juvenile Courts Should Know about Trauma and Delinquency

It’s not a secret that many youth in juvenile court struggle with symptoms related to trauma, but it can be hard to remember in court, when faced with a defiant youth who’s been repeatedly delinquent. So it’s great to see a new publication from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 10 Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know about Trauma and Delinquency.(Even though it seems to be aimed only at judges, it’s useful for all staff who work with or in juvenile court.)

Scoff at the idea that trauma could be related to breaking the law? Here’s a telling observation from the publication:
It does not go unnoticed by youth when their safety and well-being is not addressed but their delinquent behavior is. These kinds of paradoxes and frustrations can increase the likelihood that youth will respond defiantly and with hostility to court and other professionals who are in positions of authority. System professionals would benefit from recognizing that imposing only negative or punitive consequences will likely do little to change the youth’s patterns of aggression, rule breaking, and risky behaviors because such a response does not address the impact of traumatic stress on the child.

Benjamin Chambers On Positive Youth Justice

We often assume that teens land in the juvenile justice system because they’re “villains” or victims (of trauma, circumstance, or a behavioral health issue like substance abuse).  But what if we used a different lens? What if we assumed that teens commit crimes to meet needs typical of of all adolescents? After all, during this phase of development, teens want excitement, power, status, and a sense of belonging. (Plus, they’re not strong on empathy, paving the way for criminal behavior.)

Using this lens instead of a villain/victim lens means changing what we do. It means working with communities to help teens meet their developmental needs in more positive, constructive ways, so they can live crime-free lives.

Benjamin Chambers on Some Surprising Findings About Youth Attitudes Toward Crime

Do delinquent teens see criminal activity as something positive? Many adults assume that they do. However, research by Rachel Swaner and Elise White, published in 2010 by the Center for Court Innovation, suggests that for some youth at least, their attitudes and values are not anti-social at all. Though the youth outcomes in their study were not terribly positive, it underscores the need to provide youth with opportunities to do positive activities that reinforce their positive values. The study, titled, “Drifting Between Worlds: Delinquency and Positive Engagement among Red Hook Youth,”  involved a small sample of 44 youth in a housing project in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Benjamin Chambers: Juvenile Drug Courts – There ARE Practice Guidelines

Some of you may have heard this disturbing account of a drug court in Glynn County, Georiga, aired recently on “This American Life.” Usually, a drug court may take a year, possible two years, to complete.  For 24-year-old Lindsey Dills, who was 18 when she entered the Glynn County juvenile drug court, she won’t be done with it until 10-1/2 years later, counting time behind bars and probation. Now, the show makes it clear that this particular Georgia drug court is commonly thought to be run counter to generally-accepted principles of drug court. But I thought it would be a good time to mention the so-called : “16 strategies” for juvenile drug courts.  (Follow the link for a monograph from the Department of Justice, explaining the details.)

Here they are:

Strategy 1: Collaborative Planning
Strategy 2: Teamwork
Strategy 3: Clearly Defined Target Population and Eligibility Criteria
Strategy 4: Judicial Involvement and Supervision
Strategy 5: Monitoring and Evaluation
Strategy 6: Community Partnerships
Strategy 7: Comprehensive Treatment Planning
Strategy 8: Developmentally Appropriate Services
Strategy 9: Gender-Appropriate Services
Strategy 10: Cultural Competence
Strategy 11: Focus on Strengths
Strategy 12: Family Engagement Strategy 13: Educational Linkages
Strategy 14: Drug Testing
Strategy 15: Goal-Oriented Incentives and Sanctions
Strategy 16: Confidentiality

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.  

Benjamin Chambers: What Works with Serious Juvenile Offenders – Pathways to Desistance Study

Does the juvenile justice system really work? Reading comments from readers on news stories about youth in trouble, you’d think the juvenile justice sysem was a system designed to mollycoddle dangerous kids, turning them into super-predators. Nothing could be further from the truth. Among other reasons, we know this because of “Pathways to Desistance,” a research study led by Edward P. Mulvey, Director of the Law and Psychiatry Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. (Dr. Mulvey and Carol Schubert contributed a post to us on their findings in April 2010.)

The “Pathways to Desistance” research study is a unique study of what works in the juvenile justice system.

Benjamin Chambers on Reducing School Violence and Suspensions with Restorative Justice

The bad news: recent research indicates that schools suspend far more kids than they need to, and youth – especially youth of color, though not always — suffer unfairly for it. The good news? Sure, zero-tolerance school discipline policies need revision. But there’s another solution to the problem: changing school culture by implementing mediation and “restorative justice” techniques in schools. First, the background.

What do Teens in Prison Need to be Successful?

Imagine being ripped from your safe, normal professional life and thrust into federal prison for a year, for something stupid you did when you were a teenager, or even a young adult.

Piper Kerman doesn’t have to imagine it, because that’s exactly what happened to her. She was locked up in a federal prison at age 34 for a drug crime she committed in her early 20s. Because Kerman spent a year living in close quarters with many women, including 18- and 19-year-old girls, she has an unusual, nearly first-hand perspective on what teens in prison need to be successful. Here’s her suggestions about what they need:

Positive attention. Kerman found the teens in particular were incredibly responsive to positive attention, creating significant opportunities for change — opportunities that were often missed.

Illinois to Cut All Alcohol and Drug Treatment Spending – Will Other States Follow?

Blogger Benjamin Chambers brings up the subject of debilitating state budget cuts, pointing out the depressing news that the state of Illinois plans to zero-out its budget for alcohol and drug prevention and treatment programs and asks, just how bad can it get? As of March 15, the state of Illinois is cutting its $54 million budget for alcohol and drug treatment and prevention services to zero (full disclosure: I wrote the news summary linked to here). That’s right: zero. According to providers, that means many of them will shut down. What’s left, without state money?