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Model Policies for Juvenile Justice and Substance Abuse Treatment

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Publication Date: September 2008

Publisher(s): Reclaiming Futures; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Topic: Health (Health services for adolescents)


Research shows that young people who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to behave violently or end up in court. Nationwide, nearly 2 million teenagers are arrested each year; two-thirds of them test positive for drugs or alcohol at the time of arrest. Substance abuse treatment, however, in our juvenile justice system, is haphazard, uncoordinated and often ineffective. In some communities, it doesn’t happen at all. Without proper treatment, many of these young people wind up returning to a life that leads them back into trouble with the law. The cost on our judicial system to jail a teen is approximately $40,000 a year, compared to approximately $3,000 for providing drug or alcohol rehabilitation.

The Reclaiming Futures initiative, a $21-million model program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, created, tested and evaluated a new approach to help teens caught in the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime. It was implemented in 10 communities across the United States and changed the way judges, probation officers, treatment providers, families and community members worked together to improve the quality of the juvenile justice and substance abuse treatment services. All 10 communities have reported significant improvements in the quality of juvenile justice and substance abuse treatment services.

With evidence that shows the Reclaiming Futures model works, the Foundation is now spreading this approach across the country through a new partnership with the federal government and a national learning collaborative. As part of this process, Reclaiming Futures brought together in 2006 a diverse group of juvenile justice and substance abuse experts with experience working at the local, state and federal levels to share their knowledge, and to identify promising policies to spur improvements in the current system.


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