How do you reduce the number of kids going into the juvenile justice system? Overhaul school disciplinary policies. Here’s a quick overview of research on the problem, a great video that puts a human face on the issue in Connecticut, and some things you can do. Just yesterday, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement. The report is based on a groundbreaking study of nearly 1 million secondary school students in Texas.
What’s one of the biggest drivers pushing kids into the juvenile justice system these days? Schools. Schools often suspend or expel youth who misbehave, ostensibly to maintain order. Unfortunately, an analysis of 30 years of data on middle school expulsions and suspensions issued last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the sanctions were unfair and ineffective. So what can be done?
Does it really matter if we screen and assess teens for alcohol and drug problems? Most adults, after all, started experimenting with alcohol or other drugs before they turned 21 — and if they didn’t, they almost certainly knew a lot of kids who did. And most of them (though not all) survived into adulthood. So what’s the big deal if we turn a blind eye to identify teen drinking or drugging? Federally-funded research shows why it’s a big deal from a public health standpoint:
(Click the image for a larger view.) It’s taken from an excellent presentation, “Characteristics, Needs and Strengths of Substance Using Youth by Level of Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System,” given by Dr. Michael Dennis, Senior Research Psychologist at Chestnut Health Systems, at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami last month. I’ll be posting more slides from his presentation soon – stay tuned! Here’s Dr. Dennis’ notes on the slide (emphasis added):
Isn’t it great when you see a young person beat the odds? You know what I mean — you’ll read a story or see a video about a teen who struggled with drugs, alcohol, and crime, and somehow overcame all of that (and probably more) … and it just makes you feel fantastic, doesn’t it? Well, it should. But Karen Pittman, CEO and Founder of the Forum for Youth Investment, has an even more inspiring idea, which she shared in an interview at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami in May:
You can also see Karen’s full presentation at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute here.
Positive youth development is a key part of Reclaiming Futures. But what the heck is “positive youth development?” According to juvenile justice researcher Dr. Jeffrey Butts, it blends what we know about adolescent development and what we know about effective services. But don’t take it from me — here’s a brief interview on the subject that I did with Dr. Butts at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami in May:
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.
Charles Taylor Gould, a former co-worker of mine, is a juvenile probation officer in Multnomah County, Ore., who’s been hearing stories for 15 years from teenage girls in the juvenile justice system who’ve been sexually exploited or victimized by sex trafficking. So what did he do? He did what anyone would do: he made a full-length documentary. And along the way, he interviewed people like U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and actress Daryl Hannah. Your American Teen “follows three teens for approximately two years.
Sharon Smith’s daughter Angela died in 1998 of a heroin overdose. She was 18 years old. For four years before her death, Angie was in and out of 11 treatment centers, stood before a half dozen judges, and lived at one juvenile detention center. Sharon formed MOMSTELL in 2000 to advocate for more effective, accessible drug treatment and greater family involvement across the continuum of care and in the policy-making process. “Because no family should have to face the disease of addiction alone,” MOMSTELL is committed to identifying and removing barriers to treatment, many of which Sharon encountered when trying to find help for her daughter. Sharon was one of the organizers of the “national dialogue” sponsored in 2009 by SAMHSA for Families of Youth with Substance Use Disorders. Here, she illustrates some of those barriers specific to juvenile justice. When Angie started to use drugs, were there adults in her life who tried to help her?
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?
It’s not Scared Straight, but it will make you think. Here’s an intriguing way to start a discussion about prison reform. It’s a clever one-minute video from Good Magazine, which asks the question: What should be the goal of the U.S. prison system? Thanks to Benjamin Chambers at ReclaimingFutures.org for the tip.
Here’s a plum job for someone who’s into juvenile justice reform:
Reclaiming Futures, a non-profit that focuses on helping kids involved with drugs, alcohol and crime, is looking for a new national director. Started by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Reclaiming Futures uses a 6-step model that brings judges, probation officers, substance abuse treatment professionals and community members together to help kids in need. Some of the job responsibilities include:
Create a strategic plan for policy, programming, communications, operations and budgets. Track and measure the performance of Reclaiming Futures sites
Perform site visits, develop funding opportunities, attend meetings and make conference presentations
Network, coordinate and promote activities with other national organizations and other interested parties
This position pays $105,000 – $120,000, depending on experience and you’d have to move to Portland, OR. To download the application, click here.