NLC to Support Local Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives; MacArthur Foundation Also Announces New Resource Center Partnerships

Press Release
Press Release

With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, NLC has launched a new initiative to assist local leaders in advancing juvenile justice system reforms. NLC will serve as a strategic partner for the Foundation’s highly successful Models for Change initiative.  Additionally, the MacArthur Foundation has announced a new Models for Change Resource Center Partnership.

NLC to Serve as Strategic Partner for the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative

Through the Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform (MLJJR) project, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families will serve as a new strategic partner for the MacArthur Foundation’s highly successful Models for Change initiative.  Models for Change has promoted evidence-based practices at the state and local levels to make juvenile justice systems more fair and effective in holding youth accountable and helping them become successful, productive adults.

NLC’s new, 18-month initiative will engage municipal officials as new allies in advancing juvenile justice reform, and will provide them with evidence-based models and tools, as well as structured peer learning and training opportunities.  Through a municipal action guide and other means, NLC will document and disseminate proven and promising practices from cities across the country that highlight opportunities for municipal leadership.

NLC will also host a two-day leadership academy for municipal officials and other stakeholders from up to 20 cities, offering training on how to improve diversion and community reentry strategies, reduce disproportionate minority contact, and meet the needs of “crossover” youth involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.  A new peer learning network open to leadership academy participants will facilitate ongoing cross-city exchange of ideas, challenges, and lessons learned, and will offer site-specific guidance from NLC staff and other national experts.  Finally, NLC will work with other national organizations to engage city leaders in discussions of how to support police departments that are implementing systematic reforms.

The Need for Juvenile Justice Reform and Municipal Leadership

In states, counties, and cities across the country, juvenile justice systems are in need of change.  The U.S. has by far the highest juvenile detention and incarceration rate of any industrialized nation, and research has shown that juvenile correctional facilities are unsafe, expensive to operate, and ineffective at reducing recidivism or preparing youth for a productive and successful future.  The vast majority – nearly 75 percent – of youth in residential placements have not committed violent offenses.

Moreover, youth of color are disproportionately more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system and are overrepresented and/or receive harsher treatment than white youth at nearly every stage of the system, including arrest, referral to juvenile court, detention, formal processing, waiver to adult court, and disposition to out-of-home placement.

However, with support from initiatives such as Models for Change, a growing number of states and local jurisdictions have taken steps to reform their juvenile justice policies and practices, shifting away from punitive sanctions toward a focus on more developmentally appropriate, effective and efficient alternatives.  Mayors and other municipal officials can accelerate the progress of these reforms, and NLC’s new initiative will help stimulate and support municipal leadership in three key areas:

  1. Diversion from and community-based alternatives to formal handling and confinement: City leaders can advance high-quality diversion strategies through the involvement and retraining of police forces and engagement of a network of community-based providers with which the city contracts for a range of services.
  2. Reentry and aftercare: The estimated 100,000 youth who leave juvenile institutions each year face an uphill struggle in successfully transitioning back to their communities. City governments absorb a heavy share of the costs of failed reintegration and recidivism, and are in a unique position to enhance the availability and effectiveness of key aftercare services provided by city and community agencies.
  3. Disproportionate minority contact:  Cities can disseminate tools and promote training within local police departments, encourage objective decision-making processes and cultural competency, boost education and workforce development, and provide detention alternatives to reduce disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system.

By supporting effective reforms, city leaders can improve public safety and increase the likelihood that system-involved youth will obtain educational credentials, achieve gainful employment, and avoid reoffending.

Models for Change Resource Center Partnerships

As part of its Models for Change initiative, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently announced an additional commitment of $15 million, in part to establish a new Models for Change Resource Center Partnership that will build on the foundation's nearly 20-year, $150 million investment in supporting juvenile justice reform.

As part of the Partnership, four new Resource Centers will be available to help provide judges, prosecutors, defenders, policymakers, advocates, probation officers, and mental health and social service agencies with much needed technical assistance, trainings, tools, and resources to help advance juvenile justice reform across the country.  The Resource Centers will focus on areas critical to continued change in juvenile justice:

Over the last decade, there have been juvenile justice reform efforts in 35 states. Much of this work is grounded in the seminal research funded by the MacArthur Foundation that showed that adolescents are fundamentally different from adults. Treating juvenile offenders as adults, relying on incarceration, and failing to commit resources to rehabilitation and treatment is expensive, jeopardizes public safety, and compromises future life chances for young people in contact with the law. The Partnership presents an exciting opportunity for city leaders to build on this work and be part of a positive wave of change for children, their families, and their communities.

As a new strategic partner in the foundation’s Models for Change initiative, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families will work with the foundation to support municipal leadership for effective juvenile justice reform strategies and connect city officials with promising practices emerging from Models for Change Resource Center Partnership.


For more information about the Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform initiative or to inform NLC about ways in which your city is already involved in juvenile justice reform, contact Andrew Moore at (215) 848-6910 or

To learn more about Models for Change, visit, and click here for more information on the Models for Change Resource Center Partnership. 

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