Juvenile Justice Grant Guidelines

Understand guideline and funding cycles

MacArthur publishes program guidelines to help applicants determine whether their idea for a grant fits within a particular grantmaking strategy.

As a general rule, applicants should base this decision on three related criteria that appear in program guidelines: the topical focus addressed by the grantmaking strategy; the geographic area covered by the grantmaking strategy; and, finally, the type of funding (i.e., general operating support, research, program support, etc.) that supports the grantmaking strategy.

Like most strategic grantmaking foundations, the MacArthur Foundation considers funding only those applications that closely match the topical, geographic, and funding criteria for a specific grantmaking strategy.


In response to increased juvenile crime and delinquency in the early 1990s, states across the U.S. instituted changes in law to treat juvenile offenders as if they were adults, prosecuting them in adult courts, imposing harsher sentences, and often jailing them with adults. These policies fail to recognize the developmental differences between young people and adults. The result is no gains in public safety and high costs to individuals and society — costs that receive little public scrutiny. Because of the over-representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the system, the burden of punitive policies borne by them is of special concern.

The premise of the work in juvenile justice is that an understanding of the scientific research on child and adolescent development and mental health will help decision makers develop more effective policies and practices and make more rational choices in individual cases. MacArthur supports research, training, practical interventions, policy analysis, and public education. The goal of this work is to promote a fair, rational, and effective juvenile justice system that recognizes the developmental differences between adolescents and adults and is linked to other relevant agencies and organizations and is held accountable for public safety and the rehabilitation of young offenders. For nearly a decade, the centerpiece of the work has been Models for Change, which is active in 16 states and, through partnerships with federal agencies, in numerous other locales across the country.

As part of a long-standing interest in bringing science to bear on the law, the Macarthur Foundation is funding the MacArthur Research Network on Neuroscience and the Law.  In addition, building on the interest in reform of the juvenile justice system, the Foundation is exploring aspects of the criminal justice system and its reliance on high levels of incarceration to see if Foundation investment could help make it—like the goal of juvenile justice reform—more fair,  rational, and effective.


Questions about this grantmaking area can be addressed to Program Administrator Stephen Stinson.

Questions about the Models for Change initiative in the states can be directed to Robert Schwartz at the Juvenile Law Center (Pennsylvania), Lisa Jacobs at Loyola University (Illinois), Debra DePrato at the Board of Regents (Louisiana), and Michael Curtis at the Children and Youth Justice Center (Washington).


What MacArthur Funds

Models of Systems Reform

Through the initiative Models for Change: Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice, the Foundation is supporting efforts in key states to bring about changes in law, policy, and practice, thereby heightening interest and providing models for juvenile justice reform across the country. Specific areas of reform include greater use of evidence-based practices, improving aftercare and mental health services, and increasing community-based alternatives to secure confinement. All sites are working to improve data collection and analysis for decision making and to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities.

Models for Change is active in 16 states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, and Washington, as well as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, through "action networks" focused on racial and ethnic disparities, mental health services, and the quality of juvenile indigent defense.

In 2011, the Foundation began an effort to share the lessons of Models for Change and other reform initiatives with the hope of helping to harness and accelerate a wave of juvenile justice policy reform across the country. In partnership with other private and public funders, the Foundation supports the National Campaign for State Juvenile Justice Reform, whose goal is to make juvenile justice a higher priority issue, and create demand for state-level policy reform nationally.


The Foundation supports research to inform the development of effective juvenile justice policies and practices. Grantmaking has included support for the Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, whose research addressed the competence of young people to stand trial, youthful immaturity and criminal responsibility, and desistance from criminal behavior. More recent research is examining the process and effectiveness of systems reform in the Models for Change states, including studies of the consequences of mental health screening in pretrial detention, risk/needs assessment, financing systems change, benefit-cost analysis of juvenile justice programs and services, and interactions between schools and juvenile justice.

The Foundation is no longer accepting proposals for grants in juvenile justice.   


Updated April 2014