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What is the Models for Change juvenile justice systems reform initiative?

Models for Change is a national initiative to guide and accelerate the nation’s momentum toward a more fair, rational, effective and developmentally appropriate approach to juvenile justice. Funded and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the 16-state juvenile justice systems reform initiative is rooted in the Foundation’s decades-long support for juvenile justice research and interest in youth development. Models for Change was initiated in response to significant shifts that occurred during the 1990’s to move more youth out of the juvenile justice system and treat them as adults.

Models for Change is currently active in four core states—Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington—and twelve additional partner states— Maryland, Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina (Disproportionate Minority Contact Action Network) California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey (Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network) and Connecticut, Colorado, Ohio, Texas (Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network).

What is Models for Change trying to accomplish?

Models for Change 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 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. Models for Change is identifying and accelerating promising statewide models for juvenile justice systems reform that advance these principles.

What does a model system look like?   

There is no single model. Models for Change is investing in multiple states with the express goal of promoting several different models grounded in the core principles of healthy juvenile justice systems.

How does Models for Change promote juvenile justice reform?

The Models for Change initiative invests in strategic states and local sites with a demonstrated commitment to juvenile justice reform aligned with the initiative’s core principles. In these sites, the initiative targets systemic leverage points, referred to as targeted areas of improvement (TAI), such as reducing the disproportionate contact of youth of color with the juvenile justice system, ensuring appropriate mental health treatment for juvenile offenders is provided when needed, and implementing age appropriate evidence based programs, which are thought to be catalyzing issues whose successful reform will radiate change throughout the system.  

Models for Change supports reforming systems, rather than individual policies or practices, to provide the most powerful opportunity for long-term improvements in juvenile justice. The initiative is capturing the strengths of diverse juvenile justice systems with different needs and challenges, and creating a variety of state and local models that can be duplicated, adapted, and shared.

Who participates in Models for Change? How is the work coordinated?

Models for Change is active in 16 states, and is organized into four core states, three Action Networks, and a National Resource Bank. 

The systems reform work in the four core states—Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Washington—focuses on strategic issues, is implemented at state, county and local levels, and is coordinated by a designated in-state organization called a “lead entity.” These states have very different histories and cultures, population demographics, economic resources, political landscapes and types of challenges.  By examining change in states at different starting points, Models for Change aims to broaden understanding of success in different regions, making it easier to generalize the lessons learned and replicate progress nationwide.

The Action Networks are peer-to-peer forums for sharing information and strategies to accelerate change in three issues common to juvenile justice systems nationwide: disproportionate minority confinement, mental health and juvenile justice, and juvenile indigent defense. The action networks are coordinated by a member of the National Resource Bank, and are active in all four core states, as well as 12 additional partner states.

The National Resource Bank is a group of 16 leading national juvenile justice research, reform, and advocacy organizations that provide expert advice, training, and technical assistance to the core states and action network sites. The National Resource Bank helps to provide a birds-eye perspective on the local work, and connect the sites to successful practices emerging in the network and across the nation.

The MacArthur Foundation coordinates the sharing and dissemination of information, and provides oversight and direction to the initiative.

How will the success of the overall initiative be gauged?

The success of the initiative will be judged by:

  • The progress made toward achieving the goals in each targeted area of improvement;
  • The extent to which this progress moves the state closer to having a model system;
  • Reductions in minority overrepresentation and racial disparities in case processing; and
  • The spread of reform to other jurisdictions.
 In addition, the initiative will track five “vital sign” measures in each Models for Change state to get a broad sense of juvenile justice system health and functioning:
  1. Impartial and unbiased decision making (reduced racial disparities at key decision points);
  2. Retention in the juvenile justice system of all youth capable of benefiting from its programs and services (reduced transfer and waiver to adult criminal court);
  3. Youth exiting the system more capable and productive than when they enter it (increased participation in education and rehabilitation and treatment programs  and services);
  4. Reduced recidivism (re-offending); and
  5. Increased proportion of juvenile offenders handled as informally, as unrestrictedly, and as close to home as possible (reduced reliance on incarceration and increased use of community based alternative sanctions).

How does my state's local reform work connect to the national Models for Change initiative?

Models for Change is a national initiative that works as a catalyst for ongoing local work and reform.  The initiative works to connect local reforms across states and the nation, to help coordinate and direct a juvenile justice reform movement. Some local efforts are chosen by the initiative and state lead entities to receive direct funding.  Other sites receive resources in the form of technical assistance and links to other reform efforts.  In all cases, local reform work provides the crucial reforms that the initiative seeks to spread through coordination and replication of successful models.

How can my state become involved in Models for Change juvenile justice reform?

Models for Change is currently active in 16 states. While there are no opportunities to join the Models for Change initiative at this time, Models for Change participants are committed to sharing their experiences and best practices with all involved in juvenile justice policy and practice. States are encouraged to use this website as a resource for juvenile justice reform.

If new opportunities to join the initiative are planned, states will be invited to submit proposals for a rigorous evaluation process.

Who operates this site and how do I learn more?

This site is owned and operated by the Justice Policy Institute with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. For questions regarding this site, please contact  the Justice Policy Institute at: help [at] modelsforchange dot net.

Supported by

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