September | October2016

National Youth Justice Awareness Month

Robert L. Listenbee (R.L.L.): Hello. I'm Bob Listenbee, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. I'm here today with Kellie Blue, the Associate Administrator of the Juvenile Justice Systems Improvement Division within OJJDP.

President Obama proclaimed this month, October 2016, National Youth Justice Awareness Month. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was acknowledged in his proclamation for reforms we've spearheaded through our Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative.

 

First of all, with the Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative, we launched this initiative in 2014 with our philanthropic partner, The Pew Charitable Trusts. The purpose of this initiative is to achieve comprehensive, data driven, statewide, evidence-based reform efforts. It focuses on low-level, nonviolent offenders in an effort to divert them from the juvenile justice system to community-based alternatives.

 

We initially focused on three states—Georgia, Kentucky, and Hawaii. These states were involved in Pew's public safety performance project. That project was already focusing on developing alternatives to detention and reducing costs in the system, reducing the overall cost of correctional education and other expenses, and of course, improving public safety. We have expanded the Smart of Juvenile Justice Initiative to include Kansas, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

 

So Kellie, tell us a little bit about what kinds of results you have observed in your division with the Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative.

 

Kellie Blue (K.B.): Thanks Bob, I'm glad you're asking this question because progress reports from all the states are very encouraging.

 

I'd like to highlight some of the success that Georgia has experienced because it's been quite profound. Since 2013, Georgia has decreased its population of youth in secure confinement by 17 percent and, also during that same time, overall juvenile commitments dropped 33 percent. The state has been able now to close 3 confinement facilities, representing 269 beds.

 

R.L.L.: That's important progress, and we're certainly going to be watching Georgia and the other states as we go forward.

 

Kellie, reentry is such an important part of the overall reform agenda both at the national level and at the state level. Can you tell us a little bit about the efforts that your division is making to improve reentry services across the nation?

 

K.B.: Absolutely, Bob. As you know, improving reentry services is not only important for reducing recidivism, it's also important for ensuring that system-involved youth achieve the positive life outcomes that we want for them.

 

We believe that reentry planning should begin at the time a child is placed in out-of-home placement. And there's research that indicates that this is the approach that should be taken.

 

Our current reentry work is focusing on improving correctional education for system-involved youth. We want to ensure that they're achieving their academic goals, expunging and sealing juvenile records to improve the chances that reentering youth will have access to education, employment and housing opportunities, and we're also teaming up with several other federal agencies to develop a reentry toolkit for youth and families.

 

This toolkit will serve as resource for youth and families to help them address the barriers that are encountered often when a youth is returning from confinement back into their community. Such barriers as education, training, employment, housing, and access to social and legal services.

 

R.L.L.: Kellie, when will the toolkit be available to the field?

 

K.B.: The toolkit will be available to the field this winter.

 

R.L.L.: Excellent!

 

President Obama's proclamation also references substance use disorders as a stumbling block many youth struggle with. We realized, at OJJDP, several years ago, that our juvenile drug treatment courts were not as effective as we wanted them to be. Research told us they were not as effective as our adult drug courts, mental health courts, veterans courts, or family drug courts. What have we done to improve the overall effectiveness of our juvenile drug treatment courts so that we can improve services to our youth?

 

K.B.: So Bob, when we discovered the deficiencies with the juvenile drug court model, we hosted several listening sessions that brought together researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders involved in implementing juvenile drug courts. Through these listening sessions, we learned about the challenges of the juvenile drug court model, and we also had the opportunity to discuss with the field ways to improve the model.


As a result of this, we are now developing juvenile drug court treatment guidelines that will be available later this winter. Those guidelines will provide juvenile drug treatment courts with a uniform approach for implementing a drug court. The guidelines are grounded in the best of the research and the most current research that we have on adolescent development and the best research that we have on effective treatment practices for youth with substance disorders.

 

R.L.L.: Kellie, I'd like to thank you and your team for the outstanding leadership that you've provided in these reform efforts and, also, for coming here today to talk to me about these issues. Thank you.

 

To learn more about our Smart on Juvenile Justice initiative and other reform efforts, please visit our website at ojjdp.gov. Thank you.