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How to Implement a Model to Get Youth Off Drugs and Out of Crime

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One of the most pervasive problems facing adolescents who enter the juvenile justice system is drug and alcohol abuse, yet drug treatment is scarce for young adults in this country. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that more than 1 million youths, ages 12 to 17, needed treatment for an illicit drug problem in 2003, but only one in 10 actually received help. According to a 2004 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, treatment is even less available for adolescents in the juvenile justice system—fewer than 3 percent of juveniles arrested who have substance abuse problems receive treatment.

In 1996, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment funded three five-year demonstration projects focused on providing substance abuse services for juvenile offenders in three states: Oregon, Texas and Colorado. These projects developed new treatment resources for youth in the juvenile justice system, created data systems to manage the system changes, and began special court processes such as drug courts, problem-solving courts, mental health courts and wellness courts. Based on this work, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched Reclaiming Futures: Communities Helping Teens Overcome Drugs, Alcohol and Crime in 2002, a five-year initiative that brings problem-solving courts and systems of care together on behalf of substance-abusing youth in the juvenile justice system.

This report outlines lessons learned from the 10 Reclaiming Futures demonstration sites as they implemented a systemwide change to improve how adolescents with alcohol and drug problems are handled in the juvenile justice system, and provides a road map for communities that wish to help local juvenile justice systems tackle these problems.


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