Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Today is the Start of Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM)!

It is finally here! Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) kicks off today! We are very excited about a number of organizations joining us this year - Over 30 organizations in nearly 20 states are helping to make YJAM a reality!

With events happening throughout the country, YJAM is not only a time to raise awareness but also a time to build collective action, to strengthen relationships with other advocates, and to join local advocacy campaigns working to create policy changes. Events planned range from poetry slams, film screenings, community forums, and more. We estimate that over 3,000 people will attend YJAM events all over the country this year.

This year's theme is "The Consequences Aren't Minor." During the month of October, be on the look out for issues under this umbrella theme, including racial and ethnic disparities, collateral consequences, and the voices of youth and community advocates, themselves. Moreover, we will be highlighting the wonderful organizations that work, whether directly or in solidarity, to end the practice of trying youth as adults.

How can you get involved in spreading the word about YJAM? That is a great question!

For a list of events and ways to get involved, click HERE.

Latest Blog Post about this year’s YJAM themes, they can be found HERE

Help us share the excitement around YJAM by sharing this message to your networks and list serves.

Join us on Twitter and Facebook to receive all the latest infographics (like the one above), event info, and issue themes during October. And don’t forget to use #YJAM and #YouthJustice to join the conversation all month long! 

For more information, contact Angella Bellota:

Thank you for your support in kicking of YJAM 2014!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Youth Justice Awareness Month Kicks Off in 1 Week!

The time is almost here - Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) kicks off in just one week! We are very excited about the growing list of organizations joining us this year - Over 20 organizations in nearly 20 states are helping to make YJAM a reality. Events planned range from poetry slams, film screenings, community forums, and more. We estimate that over 3,000 people will attend YJAM events all over the country this year.

In response to your feedback, this year's theme is "The Consequences Aren't Minor." During the month of October, we intend on highlighting various issues under this umbrella theme, including racial and ethnic disparities, collateral consequences, and even the voices of youth and community advocates, themselves. Moreover, we will be highlighting the wonderful organizations that work, whether directly or in solidarity, to end the practice of trying youth as adults. 

Be sure to look out for our social media posts highlighting the harsh realities of the adult system and it's collateral consequences.  Join the conversation by following us on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtags: #YJAM and #YouthJustice.

Don't miss out on what is shaping up to be a great YJAM! Click HERE to see which events are happening in your area and check back regularly to see new events being added. 

JOIN US TODAY in spreading the word by sharing this blog post with your network! 

For more information, contact Angella Bellota:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mental Health Training Initiative for State and Local Juvenile Detention and Correctional Systems

Mental Health Training Initiative for State and Local Juvenile Detention and Correctional Systems

A new effort to create sustainable mental health training capacity within state and local juvenile justice systems will offer up to six sites an opportunity to be trained in the Mental Health Training Curriculum for Juvenile Justice (MHTC-JJ). This project, which is jointly supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (MacArthur Foundation), will be conducted by the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change (Collaborative for Change) at the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice (NCMHJJ).


The majority of youth in contact with the juvenile justice system experience mental health disorders, with some youth significantly impaired. Many of the staff supervising and working with youth in juvenile detention and correctional facilities have received little formal training on adolescent development and mental health to help them effectively respond to youth with mental health disorders. To address this need, the Models for Change Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network created a specialized training curriculum, the Mental Health Training Curriculum for Juvenile Justice, through support from the MacArthur Foundation.

Overview of the MHTC-JJ

The MHTC-JJ is a one-day training for juvenile justice staff that focuses on adolescent development, mental health disorders and treatment, the critical role of families, and practical strategies for engaging and interacting with youth. The training is delivered in a classroom setting and includes a mix of didactic presentations, interactive exercises, videos, and small- and large-group discussion. Since its release in
2011, the NCMHJJ has successfully trained over 500 trainers on the MHTC-JJ in over 20 states and jurisdictions.

As part of this initiative, up to six new sites will be selected to receive training on the MHTC-JJ from expert training teams provided by the Collaborative for Change at the NCMHJJ. A train-the-trainer approach will be used to train trainers to ensure that they acquire mastery of the subject matter and to teach them how to present the material to ensure ongoing sustainability of this effort. Upon successful completion of the training, each site will have a cadre of “trained trainers” who can skillfully deliver the MHTC-JJ to staff throughout their system, as well as train new trainers to create an infrastructure to support ongoing training efforts.

This project is part of a broader collaboration between OJJDP and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Legacy Initiative, which includes three additional projects:

§  Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities and Disproportionate Minority Contact: Employing a collaborative, data-driven approach to improve equity and enhance outcomes for youth of color who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. The Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP) will provide technical assistance and project oversight. Contact CCLP at

§  Dual Status Youth Technical Assistance Initiative: Designing and implementing multi-system responses to improve outcomes for youth involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and to help these systems work more effectively and efficiently together. Technical assistance utilizing a proven framework for system coordination and integration will be provided by the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, led by Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps.

§  Risk Assessment and Behavioral Health Screening: Using evidence-based tools for effective case planning and measurable reductions in out-of-home placements and risk for future delinquency. Technical assistance, research, and project oversight will be provided by the National Youth Screening and Assessment Project (NYSAP) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS). Contact NYSAP at


This solicitation for the Mental Health Training in Juvenile Justice Systems initiative seeks to train trainers within juvenile detention and correctional agencies through train-the-trainer sessions. State, regional, and local juvenile justice agencies that are responsible for overseeing and managing juvenile correctional and/or juvenile detention facilities are eligible to apply.

For Further Information

Application materials and instructions will be available on the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change website ( on October 3, 2014.

Questions? Please contact Ashley Degnan at 1-866-962-6455 ext. 7 or email her at, indicating “MHTC-JJ Training Initiative” in the subject line.

About the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change

The Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change is a multi-dimensional source of information, training, and technical assistance on mental health and juvenile justice that actively promotes the replication and expansion of resources developed through Models for Change and the Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network initiatives. Coordinated by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice at Policy Research Associates, the Collaborative for Change is one of four resource centers within the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Resource Center Partnership.

About the MacArthur Foundation

The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. The Foundation’s Models for Change initiative seeks to accelerate reform of juvenile justice systems across the country. Focused on efforts in select states, the initiative aims to create replicable reform models that effectively hold young people 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. More information is available at

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Report: US Prison Populations Increase, Number of Youth in Prisons Declines

By: Courtney Thomas
       CFYJ Intern

A recent report released by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), reveals that the U.S. prison population has increased for the first time since 2009. The report, “Prisoners in 2013” notes that state and federal prisons held approximately 1,574,700 prisoners on December 31, 2013, an increase of about 4,300 prisoners from year-end 2012.

This reversal in a three year trend of declining prison population rates is due to an increase in 2013 of 6,300 inmates in the state prison population. This is a significant change from a similar BJS report published about two years ago, “Prisoners in 2011,” which displayed a decline of 21,614 state prisoners at year-end 2011. 

One noteworthy difference highlighted in the two reports was the California imprisonment rates. A Supreme Court ruling in 2011 requiring California to reduce its prison population resulted in a decline of 15,188 sentenced inmates from 2010 to 2011 and amounted to seventy percent of the decrease in the sentenced U.S. state prison population in 2011. The California prison population continued to decrease in 2012 contributing to the decline in the national incarceration rate. However, in 2013 the California prison population remained stable. In addition, while federal prison releases outnumbered admissions in 2013, the total number of admissions to state prisons exceeded releases for the first time since 2009. This is a change from the 2011 report which showed that the number of releases from both state and federal prisons was greater than the number of admissions.

On a brighter note, 2013 saw the first decrease in the federal prison population since 1980 which partially offset this increase in state prison populations. Also, the U.S. population grew at a faster rate than the prison population so, while the total number of people in state and federal prisons increased, the imprisonment rate actually declined slightly in 2013.

Number of Youth in Prisons Declines
Another important and promising finding from the recent report is that fewer youth were held in the custody of adult prisons in 2013. States held 1,200 youth in adult prison facilities at the close of 2013 which was nearly a 70% decrease from 2000. Prisoners age 17 or younger totaled less than a tenth of a percent of inmates in state prisons. Florida and New York held the majority of these inmates and 96% of them were males. The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not place youth age 17 and younger in the general prison population, these inmates are housed in separate contract facilities, but according to the 2013 report, the number of youth in these contract facilities also decreased by 58% since 2005. The 2011 report did not specifically comment on youth prison rates but the numbers reported in the 2013 indicate a shift in the right direction.     

Despite these improvements in youth prison rates, similar racial discrepancies persisted in both the 2011 and 2013 report. Both reports indicate imprisonment rates of about 0.5% of all white male U.S. residents but around 3% for black males while Hispanic males were imprisoned at a rate of approximately 1.2% in 2011 and 1% in 2013.   

While the statistics in this recent report indicate a few encouraging improvements in 2013, they still raise serious concerns about prison rates in the U.S., particularly at the state level.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Building Safe & Strong Communities

Kids Don’t Care What You Know, Until They Know That You Care: Building Safe & Strong Communities

By Samantha Phillips

This month on Capitol Hill, National experts came together to discuss community-based alternatives to incarceration that improve public safety and support youth.  The panelist all had one definite thing in common: each panelist believes in providing cost-effective, community-based alternatives to institutional placement.  

The expert panelists included Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon, Lucas County Juvenile Court, Lucas County, Ohio, Shaena Fazal, National Policy Director, Youth Advocate Programs, Dr. Angela Irvine, Director of Research-Oakland, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and Steven L. Gates, Program Director, Youth Advocate Programs, Chicago, IL.

Representative Tony Cardenas (D-CA) and Representative David Reichert (R-MN) are co-chairs for the new, Crime Prevention and Youth Development Caucus. The caucus works toward smart justice reform for at-risk youth and further efforts that encourage violence prevention and youth opportunity. His opening remarks hit hard when he expressed that the U.S. is the only country that incarcerates children without the possibility of parole when we are the leader of the free world. 

Shaena Fazal discussed incentives for effective community-based alternatives for youth in the criminal justice system.  She spoke about the Safely Home report which describes how communities and systems can safely support youth in their homes and communities.  Currently, most kids are “left out, and locked up.”  Fazal says anything done in an institution can be done better in the community by creating an environment that keeps youth safe.  She articulated on redirecting the dollars that are spent on incarceration and putting the dollars toward less expensive community programs. 

Panelist, Angela Irvine led her discussion with the three major components of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)L sight and sound separation, deinstitutionalization of status offenders, and disproportionate minority confinement.  Irvine is a research director at the National Council on Crime & Delinquency (NCCD).  Her research was founded on racial and ethnic disparities.  She stated that the proportion of youth of color grew substantially from 2002 to 2012.  In 2002, youth of color represented 66.8% of sentenced youth.  In 2012, the percentage had risen to 80.4%.  Irvine indicated that families need to be educated on these matters in order to get the most out of building safe and strong communities.

Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon educated her listeners on the steps that Lucas County in Ohio has taken to reduce juvenile justice problems.  Cubbon spoke about Reasonable and Equitable Community and Local Alternatives to the Incarceration of Minor (RECLAIM Ohio), which is a funding initiative that encourages juvenile courts to develop or purchase a range of community-based options to meet the needs of each juvenile offender or youth at risk of offending.  Cubbon emphasizes that a community can educate with effective programming.  She ended her remarks by highlighting outstanding progress in her community; only 17 kids currently in Lucas County Juvenile Detention Center.

Panelist, Steven L. Gates is an antiviolence and community activist who works with high-risk youth and their families in Chicago’s far south side, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago.  He is the Program Director for Youth Advocate Programs.  Gates stressed the effectiveness of catching kids doing something good instead of bad, taking home visits, and being flexible.  He says there is disconnect between policy and practice therefore the individualized piece is key.  This helps kids and their families listen to what you know because the care is visible. 

The panelists emphasized the great outcomes that have come from the JJDPA in the past 40 years.  Each panelist reinforced the need to build safe and strong communities. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

JJDPA Matters: 40 for 40 Launched!

JJDPA Matters: 40 for 40 launched!

September 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation's main law governing state juvenile justice systems. Forty years ago, the JJDPA changed the face of youth justice—setting basic standards for state systems and establishing four core protections for young people in the system.

The JJDPA allows states to fund innovations and reforms that keep more kids out of jails and detention facilities and connected to safe, proven supports in their communities. Many states have used the JJDPA to modernize and improve their programs in ways that give kids the supports they need to get their lives back on track while at the same time helping make communities safer.

Throughout the fall, we'll bring you new voices and personal stories about the impact of the JJDPA and ways it can be strengthened and improved—40 stories in all, to celebrate each year of this landmark law.  Watch the clips and learn more about how you can get involved.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Youth Voices: Why I Joined my SAG

Youth Voices: Why I Joined my SAG

By Lashon Amado
The National Council of Young Leaders

This past Tuesday night, I sat in a conference room at a juvenile detention facility here in Boston. I was scared a little overwhelmed, but not because I was being adjudicated. Instead, I was at a table with city officials and heads of state agencies—people who could casually talk about meetings with the Governor. I was there because I want to be a member of the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Committee, our State Advisory Group (SAG) that oversees our juvenile justice system.  I had contacted several people, sent lots of emails and made phone calls in order to get a seat at this table.

Under the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), each state must have a SAG to guide and monitor juvenile justice programs and ensure compliance with the core standards of the JJDPA. At least 20 percent of SAG members must be young people—and I’m aiming to be one of them.

How I Got Here

I first learned about State Advisory Groups (SAGs) at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice Youth Summit in August.  My first thought was, how can I not get involved? I have a strong passion for criminal justice and am personally committed to “correcting the correctional systems.” That’s my motto. I don’t just mean behind the walls, I mean all aspects of juvenile and criminal justice: community supervision, parole and probation.

It stems from my experience in the system and the difficulties I experienced trying to get a job with a criminal background.  And from losing friends and family; I lost my own father to the streets and gun violence. I believe that part of the solution is to fix the problems in the justice system—for example, the distrust between the police and community, the community feeling a need to take the law into their own hands, the police not solving crimes. These are things we see every day in our cities.

I first got involved with the courts when I caught a small drug case. I just wanted to make money, in part because I had to step up and provide for my family at a young age.  I was 17 but got charged as an adult. Since then, state law has changed—they just raised the age of automatic transfer to the adult system—so if I were arrested today, I’d be in juvenile justice system and maybe connected to supports earlier.

As it was, I served a suspended sentence which meant I didn’t have to be in a prison or institution. Instead, I did community service and had two years of probation. I realized that if I kept getting arrested for minor things, I would be facing real time.

Street lifestyle is a revolving door. You make money fast and you lose it fast. There’s no big picture. I knew I needed a big picture. I got involved with YouthBuild, an alternative program that connects young people to education and skills training get themselves back on track; it is funded in part by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Mentoring Fund. (The OJJDP was another creation of the JJDPA.)

I now have my Associate’s degree and am about to get my Bachelor’s in criminal justice. Most people assume I want to be a cop. I tell them, I don’t know what the job title is, or what it looks like, but I want to be in a position where I’m having a direct influence on systems and policies, and through that, on people’s lives.

Joining the SAG is helping me move toward that. It’s a beginning for me.

Speaking Up, Having an Impact

At this first meeting, I felt a little out of the loop as a new guy. One of the presenters was the education program director for the Department of Youth Services (DYS). He talked about the state of education for young people in the system. He shared challenges, and we were able to suggest things they could try. I shared a little about the YouthBuild SMART initiative, which we piloted recently in Boston. It’s a traditional YouthBuild skills training model with some enhancements specific to court- and systems-involved youth.

I shared with him the results of the pilot, both what we did very well and the things we learned from. He said he thought this was great and wants to connect.

That’s a perfect example of why it matters that young people—and different types of people—be at the table. This could make a difference; whatever he and his department decide will likely be the model that is implemented statewide. Massachusetts is already a trailblazer in the education space in general, both in public school and justice system, and so it’s amazing to both learn from and maybe even influence that.

Seeing the Inside—from Both Sides

After the meeting ended, I got a personal tour from the Commissioner of the state Department of Youth Services. It was the first time I had been inside a juvenile detention center. You see how young people are living and being treated, it lights a fire and makes you want to hurry up and do something.

I had a lot of emotions. I knew people couldn’t make me out: is he one of us? One of them? I come from a family where being locked up is nothing out of the normal but still, just to be in the facility and to be interacting with the staff was wild.

Eyes on the Future

A big goal for me in being involved with our SAG, is that I want to help shift the paradigm of education in the justice system—from expectations that are at best GED or high school diploma to emphasizing college prep.  If you want young people rehabilitated and back in their communities, they’ve got to be able to get real jobs. We’re competing with a lot of money on the street, so we need to get them in a position where they at least feel autonomous. We have to equip youth to actually succeed and make a new path.

Lashon’s Advice to Other Young Changemakers

Don’t let a record stop you: One thing I want to make clear is that if you have a background in the system, do not be discouraged. This can be your opportunity to change the way people who have been involved with the justice system are viewed and treated. Think about it: why should committees and groups keep pulling in young people to present here and there when you can have them at the table and part of the committee all the time?

Find your local SAG: To find a local SAG you can reach out to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

Network and don’t be shy: It sounds generic but it’s important: if you want change you have to take steps toward it yourself.  I talked to a lot of different people about getting on the Committee. I just kept asking people. Next thing you know, I got an email asking me for my resume and a statement of interest.

Prepare: I wasn’t very in tune with the JJDPA—I didn’t know much about the law, so I did my research and got up to speed, which helped out in the meeting. I also checked out the agenda and looked up who was going to be speaking and what they do. At the meeting, I was nervous, but I listened and asked questions. 

The JJDPA Matters: “I am all for the JJDPA, especially the provisions that make sure juveniles are rehabilitated and don’t end up influenced or intimidated by more severe criminals. I believe that the way the JJDPA protects young people is key to changing lives. In my case, that one year changed my life a little bit. If I had gotten locked up, I would have been completely derailed and wouldn’t have my Associate’s now.”

Not sure what a State Advisory Group is? Read about it here.

Lashon Amado—who dropped out of high school “never thinking of college as an option”—is enrolled at University of Massachusetts Boston and working toward a future in Criminal Justice. A graduate of YouthBuild, Lashon is a member of the National Council of Young Leaders, and hopefully soon will be officially appointed by Governor Patrick as a member of the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Committee.

This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. jjdpa matters icon
The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA.  To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.