Funders Help Turn the Tide for Juvenile Justice Reform

A new precedent was set recently when Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced a plan to establish 20 as the age of jurisdiction for the state’s juvenile justice system. This would make Connecticut the first state to presumptively include anyone over 18 in the juvenile justice system.

Eye_home_2Not surprisingly, the announcement was met with widespread praise from social justice and child welfare advocates. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Vera Institute and the Connecticut Democratic Party all shared the news on social media feeds, many trumpeting it as a monumental breakthrough in the fight against over-incarceration.

That this could happen in Connecticut is a testament to the potential power of foundation-supported advocacy. Child welfare-focused foundations have poured millions into juvenile justice reform in Connecticut and other states in the past two decades. In those years, Connecticut has gone from being one of only three to count all 16-year-olds as adults to a state considering the first push of juvenile jurisdiction above 18.

One organization that has been at the forefront of pushing for this change in Connecticut is the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA). Its Executive Director, Abby Anderson, credits a well-planned earlier initiative that led to Connecticut raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from age 15 to 17, a change that was made law in 2007 and put into effect from 2010 to 2012.

That program removed youth from the system who did not belong there, and emphasized effective and appropriate community-based services. Anderson contends that, following the same principles, this approach can be extended to 18- to 20-year-olds, and could prove to be equally successful.

“We said that raising the age to 18 would reduce crime, and it has. We know that brain development — and with it a huge potential for rehabilitation — continues into the twenties. Governor Malloy’s proposal will keep communities safer, while giving young people the chance to fulfill their potential.”

CTJJA has received funding from a number of organizations over the years, including a total of $775,000 from The Public Welfare Foundation since 2008. The Public Welfare Foundation has spread its funding out across the country, and has supported CTJJA with general operating grants, programs, and advocacy. The foundation also gave The Center for Children’s Advocacy in Hartford, Conn. a grant for $150,000 in 2014 “to work locally and statewide to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system.”

The Connecticut Health Foundation has also been a big supporter of CTJJA, giving a total of $416,500 since 2007. A third big supporter of CTJJA is The Tow Foundation, with a total of $210,000 in grants since 2010.

All of these grants are testament to the fact that local community foundations with a child welfare focus have played a critical role in the movement for juvenile justice reform. In particular The Tow Foundation, located in Connecticut, has made grants to support juvenile justice reform research and program work in Connecticut and New York, as well as funding policy initiative work in Washington D.C. related to juvenile justice reform.

A few examples of Tow’s grants include $30,000 in 2012 to the Justice Policy Institute for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Reform Documentation Project and $40,000 that same year for the African-Caribbean-American Parents of Children with Disabilities for “Juvenile Justice Reform through Education and Advocacy.”

On the other side of the country, The California Wellness Foundation is another good example of a community foundation that has cultivated the terrain for major policy reforms within juvenile justice, with 23 grants to various organizations focused on those issues since 2003. This foundation’s grant-making has supported youth courts and other diversionary programs in several jurisdictions in California including projects in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Oakland. These grants include $370,000 in 2014 to the Children’s Initiative and $200,000 in 2015 for Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, located in Los Angeles.

On the national level, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation stand out as titan funders in this arena. Since 2003, Casey has made an estimated 504 grants for juvenile justice, while MacArthur has made 302 grants during that same time period, with many of MacArthur’s grants being substantially larger.

MacArthur’s juvenile justice funding has been made mostly within the scope of its Models for Change initiative, which is now winding down after more than 10 years of grant-making. Models for Change began with investments in research on juvenile behavior and brain development, then moved to support for broad reform projects in model states and counties.

As the model state phase ended, MacArthur has supported several of its nonprofit partners in becoming resource centers for the juvenile justice field. Its biggest grants came at the end of the initiative and were directed to New York-based nonprofit NEO Philanthropy. Since 2010, MacArthur has provided more than $18 million to NEO Philanthropy to promote juvenile justice systems reform nationally.

The Annie E. Casey has also been investing heavily in reducing youth imprisonment for over two decades. The foundation created the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) in the early 1990s, a nationwide network of 300 programs that work to reduce the pre-trial detention of juveniles.

When Casey launched JDAI, kids were being incarcerated at alarming rates. Using a model with core principles and strategies, the initiative has made great strides in reducing youth incarceration since then. As of 2012, 38 JDAI sites had reduced their average daily populations in detention by 50 percent or more, compared to their detention rates before they enacted the JDAI program.

The proliferation of JDAI is at its peak. In the early 2000s, the addition of a state to JDAI yielded two new sites (usually counties) on average. That figure has jumped to eight. The continued adoption of new participants has been aided in recent years by additional funding from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

In 2012, Casey expanded its work to include the “deep end” of juvenile justice, working with certain states to reduce their reliance on locked facilities to punish adjudicated offenders.

“Dangerous, ineffective, unnecessary, obsolete, wasteful, and inadequate,” is how the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2011 report, No Place for Kids, describes the negative results of locking up youth. Once kids end up in jail, social workers do what they can to help them get out and start over on the right foot, but a better plan starts with keeping kids out of the slammer in the first place.

Some of Annie E. Casey’s largest grants over the past decade in this arena went to the W. Haywood Burns Institute, which got $525,000 in 2014 for “technical assistance to sites replicating Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI).”

Casey also gave Pew Charitable Trusts $500,000 in 2011 “to support efforts to promote state-level juvenile justice reforms designed to improve outcomes and reduce costs.” Many other organizations received grants from Casey in the $300,000 to $500,000 range for juvenile justice work including the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, and the Center for Childrens Law and Policy, as well as state judicial systems and universities doing research on the subject.

Another important funder in this arena is the Open Society Institute. Since 2009, it has given roughly 54 grants for juvenile justice-related work, including 5 grants totaling $710,000 since 2009 to the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. Open Society Institute has also been a strong supporter of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, part of the Bluhm Legal clinic in Illinois, granting the program $560,000 since 2010.

In addition, Open Society Institute is also a supporter of Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, providing a grant for $70,000 in 2009 for general operating support.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1135 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.