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What is the purpose of the Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network?

The Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network was established by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2007 to forge and implement innovative solutions for better identifying and treating youth with mental health needs in the juvenile justice system. The action network is an issue-focused forum for the development and exchange of ideas and strategies across states, and for sharing practical information and expertise in support of reform. Ultimately, the action network is working to create a leadership community that will guide other states and shape nationwide responses.

Why focus on mental health?

More than two million youth under the age of 18 are arrested each year, and more than 100,000 of these youth are in placement in juvenile detention and correction facilities on any given day. About 70 percent of youth in contact with the juvenile justice system have a mental health disorder and approximately 25 percent experience serious mental health problems. A significant proportion of these youth also have substance use disorders (NCMHJJ, 2006). All four of the selected Models for Change states identified mental health as a priority of their juvenile justice reform efforts. For these reasons, mental health was selected as the focus of this action network because it continues to be among the greatest challenges in developing a more effective juvenile justice system.

How will the action network undertake this work?

1) Engage in cross-state work on key issues.
The network will identify key issue areas or "strategic innovations" on which to focus efforts, currently those are: front and diversion workforce development.  Strategic Innovation Groups (SIGs) comprised of teams from participating states will coordinate work on these issues. Additionally cross-state reviews of participating states will examining a wide variety of variables including but limited to: the current political and fiscal climate of each state; recent, relevant juvenile justice legislation; the organization of the juvenile justice and mental health systems; the presence of specialized mental health programs for juvenile justice youth (diversion, treatment courts, re-entry services); key state agencies and administrators. 

2) Enhance work in the states.
The Network will also support individual projects in each participating state. For example, Colorado is working towards having all juvenile justice agencies in Denver implement a mental health screen. For a complete list of each state's focus area visit our Local sites and partners page.

3) Create a national leadership community to influence policy and program development nationwide.
A longer term goal is to create a leadership community that will shape nationwide responses for addressing needs of youth with mental health issues who come in contact with the juvenile justice system, and use action network learning to influence mental health/juvenile justice policy and program development.

What states belong to the action network?

Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio and Texas were selected in 2007 to join the four existing Models for Change core states, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Washington, to make up the 8 state Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network. For more details, visit our Local sites and partners page.

Who will coordinate the work?

The Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network is coordinated by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice (NCMHJJ) at Policy Research Associates. The NCMHJJ is a National Resource Bank Member and is assisting the Models for Change states with their efforts to better address the mental health needs of youth involved with the juvenile justice system.

If I'm not involved directly as a member of the action network, how can I/my organization/my state or local jurisdiction get involved in working on mental health/juvenile justice issues?

To discuss how to get involved and resources that may be available to those beyond the network, contact the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice (NCMHJJ)at Policy Research Associates at

Supported by

Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.