MacArthur announced an additional commitment of $60 million to support and accelerate promising models of juvenile justice reform, bringing its total investment in the field to $100 million.  MacArthur will provide $10 million to each of four core states in its “Models for Change” initiative – Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, and Washington.  It will also support two new “action networks” to focus specifically on the over-representation of racial and ethnic minorities and the mental health needs of young people in the juvenile justice system. 

Addressing MacArthur’s Models for Change national conference, Foundation President Jonathan Fanton said, “A juvenile justice system that considers each young person as an individual, offers alternatives to incarceration for those who do not pose a threat to society, and emphasizes rehabilitative options is sensible public policy.  Taxpayers spend less on prisons, public safety is enhanced, and young lives are redeemed for productive contributions to society.”

A new report by the Justice Policy Institute, released at the conference, finds momentum building for a possible wave of juvenile justice reform across the country.  Many of the innovative reforms are based on the premise that the harsh laws and punitive practices of the 1990s were not cost-effective and failed to protect public safety.  For example, research finds that adolescents processed in adult court are 25 percent more likely to be incarcerated and nearly twice as likely to be rearrested for a violent offense as those processed in the juvenile system.  According to the report:

  • In 2006, Illinois created a new Juvenile Justice Department in recognition of the fact that young people should be treated differently from adult offenders.
  • Louisiana separated its juvenile division from the adult correction system in 2005.  The state, which once had the highest juvenile incarceration rate in the nation, also significantly reduced its reliance on secure confinement with state-run facilities now holding about one-fourth as many young people as they did in the 1990s.
  • Pennsylvania has reduced crime rates significantly by ensuring continuity of services for youth offenders who are transitioning from secure facilities back to school, work, or mental health and drug treatment. 
  • Washington is a leader in the promotion of evidence-based programs proven to reduce recidivism, such as Functional Family Therapy and Aggression Replacement Training. 

Each of these four states has a work plan that describes the specific steps it will take to bring about reform in racial and ethnic disparities, mental health, alternatives to incarceration, support after release from secure confinement, indigent defense, integration of the juvenile justice, mental health and child welfare systems, and automatic transfer to adult court. 

For more than 10 years, MacArthur has been a leader in juvenile justice.  Findings of the MacArthur Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice have already greatly advanced the understanding of differences between adults and adolescents and the need to separate juveniles from the adult criminal system.  The Network’s research was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons, where it ruled that the death penalty for juveniles is unconstitutional. 

MacArthur’s Models for Change initiative supports a juvenile justice system that is rational, effective, and developmentally sound by creating reform models to hold young offenders accountable for their actions, provide for their rehabilitation, protect them from harm, increase their life chances, and manage the risk they pose to themselves and to public safety.  The initiative seeks to develop and support replicable, system-wide change that can serve as models for reform elsewhere. 

Juvenile Justice, Justice, Youth