Creating Juvenile Justice Models for Change

Article excerpt

The recent story of two corrupt Pennsylvania judges who admitted to receiving millions in secret payments from operators of private for profit juvenile facilities - reportedly in exchange for ordering youth to be detained in those same facilities - shocked die conscience of die nation. Aldiough obviously an extreme and unusual case, the scandal served as a useful reminder of die extraordinary vulnerability of youth who come into conflict with the law, and called attention to the gap diat often exists between die philosophy and die actual practices of the juvenile justice system.

Fortunately, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere across the country, thousands of professionals are participating in a broad movement to embrace reform and regenerate the juvenile justice system in America. That initiative, called Models for Change, seeks to accelerate the nation's momentum toward more rational, fair, effective, and developmentaliy appropriate responses to juvenile delinquency through research, development, and support of innovative policy and practice models.

More than 100 years ago, a separate justice system was created to address die different developmental needs of youth. In response to some high profile juvenile cases in die 1990s, this orientation was challenged, and youth were increasingly treated like "litde adults," through more punitive reactions to delinquency and the expansion of transfers from the juvenile to the adult criminal justice system.

In recent years, however, the trend appears to be shifting back toward a more developmentaliy appropriate, rehabilitative approach. More is known today dian ever before about what works to reduce crime and rehabilitate troubled young people. Many jurisdictions are turning away from failed, punitive "get tough" approaches dial do nothing to reduce crime. Public support for investments in youth is growing, and policymakers are beginning to understand and act upon the steadily expanding body of research that documents the differences between youth and adults.

The Models for Change initiative was launched by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2004 to help sustain and spread this movement. With a commitment of over $100 million to juvenile justice research and reform, this initiative is a comprehensive, state-based approach to juvenile justice systems improvement. By making targeted investments in 16 states, Models for Change seeks to capture the strengths of diversity, and create a variety of effective models and approaches that can be adopted by other states and communities.

Building momentum

Models for Change grew out of years of MacArthur Foundation investments in developmental research, beginning with die creation of die MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice in 1996. Those original research grants pro duced a series of groundbreaking findings diat expanded basic knowledge regarding the differences between adolescents and adults. The Models for Change Initiative was launched to spread this knowledge, disseminate best practices, and ultimately create models of reform that could be adopted nationwide.

The initiative's premise is to bring about change in a few carefully chosen areas, thus stimulating change throughout the system. In partnership with four key states - Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington - chosen for their prominence, diversity, and readiness for change, Models for ('hange supports reforms aimed at issues that are considered to be "leverage points," where success will influence and radiate further change. The initiative also draws in partners from 12 additional states through "Action Networks," which provide a venue and serve as a mechanism to support peer development and learning on certain issues critical to juvenile justice reform. In all. Models for Change is active in 1(5 states with diverse strengths and challenges, presenting different demographic profiles and political climates, and starting from different points along the reform spectrum. …