Weekly Notes: Funds for gang research from OJJDP; Butts on new substance abuse/mental health data; and more

Print More

***Two announcements of note from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention:

First, registration is open for the free national conference on juvenile justice that OJJDP is hosting in October. Click here to register. There are also some pre-conference “learning labs” that look interesting, particularly one on the nexus between juvenile justice and education and another on mental health services.

Second, the 2011 solicitation for Gang Field Initiated Research and Evaluation Programs is on the agency’s website.

The 2011 spending for OJJDP and pretty much every other government agency is up in the air as Congress continues to be badly split on what should be in a continuing resolution. The deadline for Congress to avoid a federal shut down is next Friday.

OJJDP throws out the range of $200,000 to $1 million per project for this funding. That would cover the entirety of a four-year project; there’s a big difference with what a group can do with $50,000 per year and $250,000 per year. There is no match required for this grant.

OJJDP expects to make “multiple grants.” Last year, OJJDP gave four grants totaling $1.4 million for field initiatied research and evaluation.  

The solicitation lists these six aspects of youth gang activity, but also states that proposals to study other issues will be considered:

1) Youth entry into, involvement in and desistance from gang-related crime.

2) The effectiveness of prevention approaches targeting youth at risk for gang involvement.

3) The effectiveness of intervention strategies.

4) The nature and scope of youth gangs in juvenile detention and correctional facilities.

(5) The effectiveness of reentry approaches.

6) The assessment of how tribal communities can effectively address youth gang challenges.

Applications are due May 9.

***We missed this last month, but juvenile justice research guru Jeff Butts wrote a great column for the Reclaiming Futures blog about what new research has revealed about the nexus between juvenile justice and problems with substance abuse and mental health.

The research was done by Gail Wasserman of Columbia University, and found that about 35 percent of youth who make it to the “intake” phase of a juvenile justice system have either a diagnosed substance abuse problem, mental health disorder, or both. That’s a significant percentage, Butts points out, but far from the figures that frequently are bandied about.

“I've heard many practitioners around the country make the same mistake, claiming that ‘70 percent’ of the youth in ‘the system’ have diagnosable disorders,” Butts writes.

But for juveniles who are detained before adjudication or confined after adjudication, the numbers are closer to that 70 percent. Fifty-nine percent of detained youth have a substance abuse or mental health diagnosis, according to Wasserman’s research, and 64 percent of confined youth have one.

The bottom line, Butts concludes: “Youth come into the juvenile justice system for a lot of different reasons. …For most youth, their offending was probably not caused by mental health and substance abuse problems, but by the time a juvenile has committed multiple offenses, and by the time he or she has been detained or incarcerated, mental health and substance abuse are likely to be salient for whatever treatment and intervention plan follows.”

The substance abuse aspect of this fits with the early findings from the Pathways to Desistance research, which followed more than 1,300 serious juvenile offenders in Philadelphia and Phoenix for seven years

More than a third of males and females followed by Pathways had a diagnosable drug or alcohol dependency, and the early findings suggest that family-involved drug treatment was the one strategy associated with lower future offending.

***We have a new colleague in the juvenile justice periodical world. The Boston-based Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps is partnering with Georgetown’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform on The Connector: Working Together for Multi-System Youth. The contents will focus on how to assist crossover youth, who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Click here to read the first issue, which includes profiles of two initiatives to help crossover youth and Q&A-style interviews with key officials involved in that process.

*** The longest-running juvenile justice periodical, of course, is Juvenile Justice Update.  Marion Mattingly’s Washington column in Update always includes some tidbit that is news to JJ Today. In the February/March issue, she reports that Denise Forte, a former legislative director for Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and education policy director for the House Committee on Education and Labor, is now with the Department of Education. It can’t be a bad thing to have someone like Forte, well-versed in juvenile justice, at Education while the administration talks with Congress about revamping the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Also in this issue: a great examination of two cases involving youths detained by Kentucky for habitual truancy. In both cases, an appeals court chucked the detention order after finding out about significant errors made in both cases.