Committed Municipal Leaders Gather for Juvenile Justice Reform Leadership Academy

June 30, 2014

By Laura Furr

Thirty local leaders from across the country committed to lead juvenile justice reform in their cities joined together during the Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform Leadership Academy on June 11-13, 2014, hosted by the National League of Cities (NLC).  The Leadership Academy sowed seeds of action in three topic areas: community-based services for low level and status offenders, building racial and ethnic equity, and improving collaboration.

Presented as part of NLC’s role in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Resource Center Partnership, the leadership academy featured faculty from three of the initiative’s topical Resource Centers: the Status Offense Reform Center, the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, and the National Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change; along with the DMC Action Network.

Laurie Garduque, Program Director for Justice Programs at the MacArthur Foundation, joined Shanetta Cutlar, Chief of Staff at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and Theron Pride, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Justice Programs, to speak at the opening dinner. Ms. Garduque delivered a powerful call to action challenging city leaders to recognize that youth are not simply "small adults", but are still developing the decision-making ability adults may take for granted, and that we must respond to youth in ways that are consistent with their developmental needs.

Over the next day and a half, renowned experts from among the Models for Change Resource Center and partners informed local leaders about best practices that have been distilled through a decade of juvenile justice reforms.  Local leaders also shared initiatives already underway in their cities and created city action plans to accomplish data-driven and meaningful change at home.

Community-Based Services

Many of the city action plans included implementing models to keep youth who are crossing the threshold of the juvenile justice system from further involvement in the system. Several Leadership Academy cities are considering how an assessment and service center would serve the needs of these low level and status offenders, such as those skipping school or shoplifting.

Existing models for these assessment and service centers, such as those in Nashville and Minneapolis, differ slightly, but typically share four characteristics:

  • They serve youth charged with status offenses (most often, truancy and running away) and low level offenses (i.e shoplifting)
  • They provide police with an alternative to juvenile detention centers or releasing youth to the streets
  • They assess youth’s needs that are causing the problem behavior and
  • They either refer youth to existing services in the community or directly provide those services, typically during after-school hours

Racial and Ethnic Equity

Racial and ethnic disparity is a persistent problem that begins at the front door to the juvenile justice system – police interactions and arrests, where city leaders have direct control. Reforms undertaken by Leadership Academy cities to address that front door have the potential to significantly impact disproportionate representation of youth of color throughout the local juvenile system. Subsequently, NLC and its partners were particularly excited to see every city at the Leadership Academy commit to implement a concrete reform to address racial and ethnic disparities.

A number of cities included increased data collection and analysis in their action plans as a key step to build racial and ethnic equity. The necessity of this first step was underlined by Mark Soler, Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, who highlighted it as a practical part of the solution and a key role for cities. 

Soler also recommended a powerful early step of implicit bias training for law enforcement, court workers, and any professional with the power to make decisions about children’s lives. Several cities are planning to take this step toward building racial and ethnic equity. 

Improved Collaboration

The impact of improved collaboration on successful juvenile justice reforms was a consistent theme throughout the Leadership Academy and also appeared in all of the city action plans. Most cities focused on taking steps to improve collaboration between city officials and local school districts, a crucial partner in juvenile justice reform for cities.  In particular, cities plan to increase aggregate data sharing among agencies and create systemic, sustained working groups to address juvenile justice issues.

Several cities identified ways to strengthen links between their law enforcement agencies and local school systems.  Bob Schwartz, Executive Director of the Juvenile Law Center, highlighted city-county collaborations, such as those with often county-run school systems, as promising approaches to win funding for reforms.

Next Steps

Next, NLC will engage these cities and interested others in a peer learning network designed to facilitate support and sharing among city leaders as they implement action plans.  The network will be anchored by six webinars that will continue building the knowledge of city leaders on additional juvenile justice reform topics of interest to cities. These webinars will be open to any interested city leader. Stay tuned to the Weekly for more information about how to join the webinars.