Live from NPJS: Day Three of Juvenile Justice Conference Week

Greetings from Pittsburgh!

From the desert heat of Phoenix, we descend out of the sky on rainy Iron City for the National Partnership for Juvenile Services (NPJS) annual symposium.

This is leg two of Youth Services Insider’s juvenile justice two-step. You can read about the first leg, at the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s JDAI conference, by clicking here and then here.

Put together, the two conferences represent the spectrum of juvenile justice. Casey’s interest is in pushing juvenile justice systems to lower their use of locked facilities and, to a lesser extent, residential care. NPJS’s focus is on supporting the professionals who work in locked and residential placements: guards, youth workers, educators and more.

Kudos to both for not keeping the blinders on. There were several sessions at JDAI about best practices for confining youth, and the first workshop we visited at NPJS dealt with a community custody program that helped curb deep-end placements for minority youth in Allegheny County.

Some notes from our first day in Pittsburgh…

Remnants of Reform

While we were landing in Phoenix for a conference focused on reducing detention admissions, the NPJS Symposium was kicking off with a discussion about new research on serving youth who do require detention.

The roundtable centered on a paper by Dr. David Roush of Juvenile Justice Associates. Roush is excited about research done on the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) by the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago.

JTDC was a horrendous, crowded and violent mess before coming under the control of the courts. As a Casey JDAI site, it has lowered its numbers significantly.

Under the leadership of Transitional Administrator Earl Dunlap, the center gradually moved away from its operational model toward one based on incorporation of positive youth development and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

That transition offered a rare ability for researchers to conduct a randomized control study that weighed the impact of in-facility reform, because certain areas of JTDC were ready to proceed with the new model before others. That meant a large group of youth would be exposed to CBT and youth development strategies, and another large group would not.

The findings by Crime Lab are significant. Roush summarizes:

“After tracking the two groups for over 18 months after release, the Crime Lab’s initial data analysis found statistically significant reductions for the CBT youth in (a) in-custody violence as measured by the most serious disciplinary infractions (10% reduction) and (b) re-arrests and returns to detention (20-24% reductions).

…The current data suggest that the most challenging youth of color from Cook County can have positive life outcomes from brief interventions based on positive youth development and cognitive behavioral training.”

In Roush’s estimation, this amounts to a “substantial rethinking of current strategies about how to improve conditions of confinement.”

It will be interesting to see if Roush and like-minded advocates can find a supporter in the world of philanthropic or government funding. The two biggest private players on the juvenile justice board have always been Casey and the MacArthur Foundation.

MacArthur is winding down its juvenile justice portfolio, the Models for Change initiative, this year. It is hard to see how improving juvenile facilities falls in line with Casey’s deincarceration focus.

How about the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention? Perhaps, but recent actions by the agency suggest to us that they too are more interested in deincarceration.

OJJDP used to fund a National Center for Youth In Custody, and in 2013 awarded a three-year grant to NPJS to continue the center. A year later, it yanked the grant and shuttered the center.

The federal agency still funds training and technical assistance (T/TA) to juvenile facilities as a fraction of a larger T/TA contract, which includes funding to assist with lowering racial and ethnic disparities. That is the issue that OJJDP Administrator Bob Listenbee has identified as the Obama administration’s juvenile justice priority.

Who does that leave? Certainly some state-level foundations could take interest, or state and county governments. But YSI is stumped on what national funding partner might take this on with Roush, NPJS and others.

Click here to read the Crime Lab’s work, Think Before You Act.

Community Custody for Serious Offenders

Allegheny County Assistant Chief Probation Officer Kim Booth introduced a small morning audience to the Community Intensive Supervision Program, which is meant to handle a confluence of juveniles who are being stepped up from regular probation or stepped down from residential placement.

Much of the program is delivered at six neighborhood centers in the county, and they are all open seven days a week from morning until late night. Youth advance through a three-level system with an ambitious slate of activities and experiences along the way.

To name a few things participants are exposed to:

  • Aggression Replacement Training, which is also at the heart of a youth development program we profiled earlier this year.
  • Monthly family support group. Booth said that this is often an opportunity for single moms to help each other talk about raising young men alone.
  • Black Chronicle (an African-American history curriculum).
  • Community service (between 50 and 100 hours)
  • Job training partnership with Goodwill Industries
  • Recreation activities, including distance bike trips and organized basketball tournaments. Booth attempted to include horseback riding, and found terror in the eyes of her flock.

“I can pull a gun on somebody, but I can’t get on a horse,” she quipped.

From an outside-Allegheny perspective, here is what’s amazing about CISP. It is pretty costly (up to $110 per day, Booth said), but has been operating since 1990. Twenty-five years of an uninterrupted community alternative is pretty rare.

That, Booth said, is thanks to a thus-far unwavering commitment by the state to fund 80 percent of the program on a per-participant basis, with the county picking up the other 20 percent.


On the other end of the spectrum from CISP is Nancy Calleja’s Forward-Focused Model (FFM), developed a few years ago as an approach for serious youth offenders (frequent offenders, sex offenders and those adjudicated for violent crimes.)

Calleja, a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, originally built the model in 2012 for California’s Department of Juvenile Justice as a program for treating juvenile sex offenders.

Since then, Wayne County (Detroit) has adopted the program for broader use. Calleja also partnered with Safer Society to publish a Facilitator’s Manual and Youth Workbook for other jurisdictions that have interest.

In a nutshell, FFM is a seven-stage model that pairs positive youth development approaches with a mix of therapeutic phases. It is generally built to be a 10-month intervention.

Among the key components of FFM: group treatment, individual and family therapy, plant/pet therapy, movie therapy and bibliotherapy, experiential activities and reentry planning. Calleja also stressed that facilitators work individually with youth to develop hobbies, low-cost activities they can do to enjoy themselves during idle hours.

Calleja hasn’t really had a chance to back the model up with outcomes yet. Heather Bowlds, who heads up sex offender treatment for California DJJ, told us that anecdotally, FFM participants were not coming back into the system. But juvenile sex offenders are the lowest recidivating group anyway, so Wayne County is likely the testing ground for this approach.

We asked Calleja if she thought the model could be used either in a community setting or in a hybrid manner, where it got started during incarceration and transitioned to community.

“Yes,” she said, as long as there was a critical mass of participants located in a manageably close area of a county or city. “So much of it is group-based activity.”

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1210 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at