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A Model for Judicial Leadership: Community Responses to Juvenile Substance Abuse

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Abstract:

Juvenile substance abuse is widespread in this country. It is a major public health issue with numerous costs to society. Today's juvenile court system is not effective in addressing the problem of substance abuse among juvenile offenders, yet it has become, by necessity, the main vehicle for getting juvenile offenders into treatment.

To be effective in this effort, juvenile courts need to collaborate with community agencies that provide assessment of and assistance to at-risk youth, mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities, and the community as a whole. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched Reclaiming Futures in 2002 as a five-year initiative that brings juvenile courts, community stakeholders and systems of care together to help young people in the juvenile court system that have substance abuse issues. The project is being conducted in 10 communities within nine states and is structured around the idea that the leadership of juvenile court judges is critical to creating effective treatment and guidance for substance-abusing youth within the justice system.

The Reclaiming Futures approach requires the juvenile court judge to assert leadership in a team effort for systemic change. This report offers a set of practical guidelines to this end. It also offers 10 recommendations to judges who would like to start similar projects in their communities. These recommendations note specific strategies addressing systemic barriers and disincentives to successful treatment programs.

The authors state that, though Reclaiming Futures is still a work in progress, it has been successful in the 10 sites where it is under way. They hope to see the Reclaiming Futures model spread to communities across the country.