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2014 Issue Brief: To Decrease Juvenile Offending, Make Effective Drug Treatment a Priority

Published Dec 8, 2014, Models for Change Resource Center Partnership

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Substance use is prevalent among juvenile offenders, and predicts both continued offending and a less successful transition to adulthood. Yet many juvenile offenders with drug problems go untreated. A number of studies, including Pathways to Desistance, have shown it is possible to use drug treatment to decrease juvenile offending. These studies lead to the following recommendations: • Juvenile justice systems should screen all offenders, identify and evaluate substance use problems, and provide appropriate services as early as possible. •

  • Drug treatment should make better use of evidence-based practices, such as family involvement in drug treatment. 
  • Drug treatment in the juvenile justice system should be targeted in type and intensity to the needs of the adolescent. 
  • Juvenile offenders with drug problems in institutional care should receive continued drug treatment when they return to the community; this requires providers to develop methods to engage these adolescents in treatment. 
  • Juvenile justice systems should seek opportunities for funding community-based substance use services—for example, using the expanded access through the Affordable Care Act and continuous or presumptive eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP.

The Pathways to Desistance study is a multi-site, longitudinal study of serious adolescent offenders as they transition from adolescence into early adulthood. It is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in partnership with federal and state agencies and other foundations. For more informationn, contact Carol Schubert at, or visit the Pathways website, 


Supported by

Models for Change was a juvenile justice systems reform initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.