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Models for Change is a long-term, $165 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 to the threats to juvenile justice, the foundation launched the MacArthur Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice (ADJJ). 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.   After the launch of Models for Change, the initiative continued to support practices and policies grounded in science and evidence through the Models for Change Research Initiative.


Reform movement and replicable models

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 and reform areas

Models for Change is a 35-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.

The initiative began by working comprehensively on juvenile justice systems reform in four core states chosen for their prominence, diversity and readiness for change. 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. Through these system-wide efforts, the initiative worked to create models of reform to be studied, shared and adapted.

Through the multi-state action networks, the initiative expanded to 16 states by focusing on the key areas of reform of disproportionate minority contact, mental health and juvenile justice reform, and juvenile indigent defense.   The action networks created forums for sharing and distributing best-practices on three issues common to juvenile justice reform nationwide.

Collaborations with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) allowed Models for Change to expand its reach to 35 states.

The initiative is continuing its focus on key reform areas through the Resource Center Partnerships, which provides administrators, practitioners and policymakers with technical assistance, trainings, and proven tools and resources in the areas of status offense reform, mental health and juvenile justice, juvenile indigent defense and dual status youth. 

Supported by

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