Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the Models for Change Conference
December 11, 2007 | Speech | Juvenile Justice

Welcome to the second annual working conference of Models for Change.

I would like to make special mention of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice which is hosting this Models for Change conference. Nancy Gannon Hornberger and her staff have done a wonderful job organizing all of the logistics so that we can all have an enjoyable and productive time together. Thank you to Nancy and her team.

A year ago we were present at the creation of MacArthur’s national initiative to improve juvenile justice in America. I came away from that conference inspired by the energy, determination, wise experience and creative ideas that flowed from all of you. I looked around the room and saw state supreme court justices, state secretaries, directors of justice agencies, local district attorneys, public defenders, probation officers, front-line youth workers, youth advocates, and research scholars. I left with a sure sense that, together, we could make change happen.

Today, we gather, in larger numbers, to share our early accomplishments and to proclaim our larger ambition: to forge a movement to reform the juvenile justice system all across America. I use the word “movement” rather than “program” or “initiative” for a reason. Movements are based on values and animated by a vision of a more just and humane society. Movements arise from a broad base, starting locally, gathering force, and gaining national momentum. And, most often, movements succeed in changing reality when the time is right and the public ready to embrace new ways of pursuing basic goals.

We share these beliefs:

• That youthful offenders must receive treatment that is fundamentally fair and free of discrimination;

• That children are not adults – developmental differences must be taken into account and each child assessed as an individual;

• That young offenders have potential – investing in their strengths makes more sense than penalizing their weaknesses;

• That all people have the right to feel safe in their communities;

• That actions have consequences: young people must understand and be accountable for what they do;

• That we are all in this together – sharing responsibility for shaping our young people into mature, law-abiding adults who realize their full potential and give back to their communities.

These principles define our movement. A decade of scientific research informs our planning. A commitment to young people and safe communities inspires our action. Our ambition is to take what we have learned and bring it to every state, every county, and every town in America.

The English historian, George Macaulay Trevelyan, said: “Action springs ….from a readiness for responsibility.” You have demonstrated that readiness. Acting together, we will take this movement across this nation.

Already, a great deal has been achieved. Indeed, the MacArthur Foundation Trustees have been so impressed with our progress that they have increased MacArthur’s commitment to Models for Change from an initial $60 million to $90 million.

That increase enables us to broaden and deepen our work together significantly.

As a first step in that expansion, I am pleased to announce that eight new states will join Models for Change through two networks: one dedicated to improving mental health services and the other focused on reducing racial disparities. Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, and Texas will participate in the Mental Health Action Network, which is coordinated by the National Center on Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina, and Wisconsin will form the Action Network to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, which is coordinated by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy.

These eight states were selected from among 27 states that applied, a sign that interest in juvenile justice reform is spreading. They were chosen because they are poised for change:

• All have key leaders who recognize the issues and take responsibility for action;

• All have a shared vision of what the system should look like and how it should perform;

• All have set measurable goals for improvement;

• All have made a commitment of resources, both political and fiscal; and

• All have agencies and people that have shown a willingness to work together and solve problems in new ways.

Our goals for each network are clear. The Mental Health Action Network will find new ways to identify and treat juvenile justice involved youth who have mental health needs. The DMC Action Network aims to eliminate systemic unfairness based on ethnicity or color. It is not acceptable that young people of color are incarcerated at five times the rate of white youth.

I am also pleased to announce next year that Models for Change will add a third action network to improve juvenile indignant defense. It will be coordinated by the National Juvenile Defender Center. That will bring the total number of states in Models for Change to 16 with generous coverage of all parts of the United States.

We are delighted to welcome representatives from the 8 new states to Models for Change. May I ask you to stand?

While each of you will focus on one particular issue, we hope your states will learn about and adopt other elements of Models for Change. And we know the four core states will gain from being part of your action networks.

Last December, our state delegations met together for the first time, learning about common difficulties and mutual ambitions for reshaping the juvenile justice system. We began the process of forging a shared identity as architects of the Models for Change initiative.

This conference gives us the opportunity to ask how we are doing a year later. As the panel sessions will soon reveal, concrete progress is being made. Shortcomings are being documented, strategic plans crafted and refined, goals for improvement sharpened, and model demonstrations launched, like the Philadelphia Reintegration Initiative in aftercare and Louisiana’s 16th Judicial District’s Middle School Early Intervention Project.

And the National Resource Bank is offering workshops on evidence- based practice, training on new protocols, information sharing agreements, new data systems, and mapping community resources and services. These tools are essential for getting the job done.

Let me highlight some of the early accomplishments in our four first states, the concrete steps they have taken toward our goals of improved public safety and better lives for our young people.

We start our tour in Pennsylvania, where Models for Change leaders like Jim Anderson of the Juvenile Court Judge Commission, and Jim Rieland, Chief of Probation in Alleghany County, are seeing welcome changes in local and state policies.

• The Governor and the Secretaries of Education and Public Welfare endorsed a Joint Position Statement on Aftercare. Thirty-six of the state’s 67 counties have committed to enhancing their aftercare practices through a single integrated plan that follows a youth from placement to reentry, ensuring prompt re-enrollment in school and continuity in mental health and substance abuse treatment.

• Thanks to policy developed by Models for Change leaders – like JCJC’s Keith Snyder – the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Budget Guidelines now direct counties to focus on aftercare and coordination between the mental health and juvenile justice systems. That should translate into more funding for programs and services for youth involved in juvenile justice.

• Supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is creating a groundbreaking position dedicated to the educational needs of delinquent youth.

In Louisiana, with leaders like Simon Gonsulin of the Office of Youth Development and Connie Koury at the Board of Regents, there is evidence of deepening state and local support for Models for Change:

• Governor Kathleen Blanco and state legislators provided an additional $1.25 million to the Office of Youth Development’s for special initiatives at five local Models for Change sites and an additional $3 million for juvenile indigent defense.

• Parishes will use this funding to develop Functional Family Therapy teams in Louisiana; to provide specialized training on screening and risk assessment tools for each local jurisdiction; to bring evidence-based practices to Louisiana’s juvenile drug courts; and to improve local data management systems.

• With the support of District Attorney Phil Haney and his colleagues, local Children and Youth Planning Boards will receive state support to help establish a continuum of community-based sanctions and services for youth diverted from secure facilities.

In Illinois,

• National Resource Bank members the National Juvenile Defender Center and Northwestern University conducted an assessment of the quality of juvenile indigent defense in the state that revealed flaws that compromised due process rights. In response, the state legislature created a juvenile defense resource center. Legislators also came very close to raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 17.

• With the support of Health and Human Services Secretary Carol Adams, the state allocated additional resources for Re-Deploy Illinois, a program to reduce incarceration through community-based sanctions and services, and increased funding for reducing racial and ethnic disparities;

• Most significantly, Illinois created a separate Department of Juvenile Justice. It is making great strides to adopt policies and practices consistent with a philosophy of treatment and rehabilitation.

In Washington, the last Models for Change state selected, early action is underway.

• In June, Governor Christine Gregoire announced the selection of five focus counties for Models for Change, all of which have crafted strategic plans and begun to work. Ending one distinguished career to begin another, Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge is retiring from the bench on December 31 to play an integral role in Models for Change as the Founding President of the Center for Children and Youth Justice, the Washington lead entity.

• Consistent with our aims, the State created a mechanism for funding children’s mental health services, and established a new Center on Evidence Based Practice.

These concrete examples are impressive. But there are good things happening beyond Models for Change that bode well for our national reform movement. Nearly every state in the union has recently taken a step in the right direction.

• 14 states improved adjudication of juveniles, providing due process protections and setting standards for competency evaluations;

• 6 added on-site education and mental health services to correctional facilities;

• 5 enhanced re-entry and community-based alternatives; and

• 8 improved their aftercare systems by increasing support to young offenders and their families as they transition back to the community.

One of the brightest examples was a recent success in Connecticut. The Campaign for Youth Justice, the Vera Institute of Justice, and the Foundation’s Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice helped pass legislation giving juvenile courts jurisdiction over those under eighteen. Now only two states in the nation continue to try all 16- and 17-year-olds offenders as adults.

More money for mental health services and aftercare, a partnership with departments of education, new evidence-based programs like Functional Family Therapy, improved indigent defense, more robust alternatives to incarceration – these are tangible accomplishments that build momentum for change. And behind all the system changes and statistics are individual stories of young people whose life chances are improved.

Patty Potter, the Models for Change Mental Health Coordinator in Erie, Pennsylvania, recently shared the story of 15 year-old Carlos. He was picked up for drinking after release from a residential treatment center and likely headed into a cycle of detention and re-arrest, leading eventually to the adult criminal justice system.

Instead, he landed in the care of the Erie County Probation Triage Team, a Models For Change-supported effort to identify youths with mental health needs and divert them to appropriate community-based services. The Triage Team, in collaboration with his school, found a day treatment program that allows Carlos to stay in the community and continue his schooling. Carlos has completed drug and alcohol treatment and is no longer under judicial supervision. Instead of getting deeper into trouble, Carlos got the help he needed to break his addiction and start over. He has made the best of his second chance and his future looks bright: he aspires to become an auto mechanic, attends public high school—not an alternative high school—and lives at home; he has not committed any other crimes, and his case has been closed. This truly is a case of no news is good news.

In the past, Carlos probably would have been placed away from his family for another five years. Carlos, and others in his shoes, should be a constant reminder. While writing policy on a large scale, we must also make sure that practice develops in ways that benefit individual young people at the most local level.

Young people like Carlos influence the opinions of those around them about what works and what does not. Every success story wins converts to sensible programs and policies.

As I said earlier, movements are most successful in changing reality when the time is right and the public is ready to embrace new ways of pursuing basic goals.

Our movement is gathering steam and we must seize the moment to put sensible policies and laws in place that will stand the test of time.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”

The super predator myth was just that, persuasive and unrealistic, but it drove a national wave of punitive and harsh policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Models for Change is a powerful alternative to that myth. It offers a smart, effective, enlightened approach to dealing with youthful offenders. Ours is a hopeful message that speaks both to public safety and to the potential of young people like Carlos to develop and live responsible lives. And there is mounting evidence from members of our National Resource Bank that the public is ready to embrace our message.

Today, Mark Soler and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy released a report on the public’s attitudes about race and crime. The report clearly shows that people still believe in the promise of our youth and are willing to invest in their development rather than putting them away. According to the report, most people believe that almost all youth who commit crimes have the potential to change and that locking kids up without rehabilitation is the same as giving up on them. In fact, 8 out of 10 people surveyed favor shifting funds from incarceration to programs that to enable youth to become productive citizens.

Indeed, the public is not only willing to shift funds to pay for rehabilitation but to increase their taxes to do so. A survey by Laurence Steinberg and Alex Piquero found that people were willing to spend more on rehabilitation services than incarceration to get an equal reduction in crime, and both self-identified liberals and conservatives were willing to spend substantially on rehabilitation.

According to Steinberg, for a long time, policies regarding youthful offenders have been far more punitive than the public really wants. Either politicians do not understand what the public thinks, or they misrepresent it.

Solid research shows that with alternatives to incarceration, evidence-based mental health and substance abuse treatment, and effective after care, young offenders can get their lives back on track. Studies confirm they are much less likely to reoffend and public safety improves. Models for Change is bringing comprehensive juvenile justice reform to four bellwether states and 12 more through action networks focused on the biggest challenges to a fair and effective system of juvenile justice in this country. Ultimately, all are beacons of hope for others to follow. There are emerging signs of interest in reform surfacing in every corner of America. The public is sympathetic to change. And multiple models – built by local adaptation and innovation – are taking hold in a virtuous, reinforcing cycle of learning.

With the launch of our new action networks today, we begin a new phase of our partnership. It is time to begin sharing with the rest of the states what we are up to, up against and what we expect to accomplish. Let that process begin in earnest at this National Conference.

Just last week at a hearing called by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the reauthorization of the juvenile delinquency prevention act, several witnesses cited examples of your work together, in Models for Change, as successes that should be replicated across the country.

There is even potential to move beyond our shores. MacArthur works in 60 countries, and our human rights grantees from China to Russia to Nigeria have demonstrated a keen interest in learning about what you do. So do not be surprised if we ask you to bring your work to a far away place.

Models for Change will succeed not only when all of you are successful but when other states follow your lead. The power of our movement is the collective power of our individual accomplishments. We have the opportunities. We have the resources. We have the research. We have the leadership. We have our shared vision and unbending determination. And we have the public on our side; the public believes America will achieve greater safety by treating young people fairly and giving them the help they need to redeem their lives and contribute to their communities.

Our pace is quickening, but we must not rest until this movement for juvenile justice reform has truly created models that change the landscape of our nation.

Together we can do it.

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