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Background and principles

Models for Change is a long-term, $100 million investment in more fair, rational, effective and developmentally appropriate approaches to juvenile justice.

The MacArthur Foundation began making grants to organizations in the juvenile justice field in 1996, following years of harsh legislation that threatened the foundations of juvenile justice in this country–laws restricting juvenile court judges’ traditional discretion to deal with individuals on the basis of their needs, curtailing their jurisdiction, doing away with confidentiality protections, introducing frankly punitive new sentencing approaches, and requiring the transfer of more and more youth to the adult criminal system. 


Research-based approach

In response, the foundation launched the MacArthur Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice. The Network's developmental findings have helped to remind the public of why we need a separate system of justice for young people. The ADJJ Network produced groundbreaking research documenting the developmental differences between adolescents and adults, and the need for a separate system of justice for youth. Network research played a critical role in the Supreme Court’s Roper v. Simmons decision outlawing the juvenile death penalty, a major milestone in the shift away from the harsh and developmentally unsound policies that prevailed in the 1990s. Read more about the Research Initiative here.


Models for Change launched

By the beginning of this decade, signs pointed to a reform movement grounded in a commitment to a separate justice system for youth that is responsive to their developmental needs and focused on their practical rehabilitation. The national juvenile justice systems reform initiative Models for Change was launched to harness and direct local reform work into a larger, coordinated effort to share replicable models of reform and catalyze change across the nation. Download a copy of the original Models for Change Framework.


Grounded in core principles

The initiative is rooted in an evidence-based approach to juvenile justice reform, and promotes a variety of systems reform models that are grounded in the core principles of fundamental fairness; developmental differences between youth and adults; individual strengths and needs; youth potential; responsibility; and safety.


Reform states

Focusing resources in a small number of key states chosen for their prominence, diversity and readiness for change, the initiative helps to create and sustain reform models that can be studied, shared and adapted. Following the formal launch of Models for Change in Pennsylvania in 2004, the initiative expanded to Illinois in 2005, to Louisiana in 2006, and to Washington in 2007. Multi-state Action Networks have since been formed to create forums for sharing and distributing best-practices on three issues common to juvenile justice reform nationwide:  disproportionate minority contact, mental health/juvenile justice and juvenile indigent defense.


Models for Change is now a 16-state national initiative that advances  juvenile justice system reforms that effectively hold young people accountable for their actions, provide for their rehabilitation, protect them from harm, increase their life chances, and manage the risk they pose.


Action networks

Collaborations involving several state and local partners working to advance targeted juvenile justice reform issues.

More about the action networks »