Outrage Fuels OJJDP Administrator’s Drive for Youth Justice
Closures of youth correctional facilities currently tend to be “haphazard,” failing to consider community impact and the future allocation of resources, OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan says in a question-and-answer column published on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange website. The column describes the Administrator’s decades of advocacy for youth justice reform and her role at OJJDP’s helm. Her responses reveal a commitment to strategies that emphasize opportunities for youth and an end to youth incarceration.
“It’s very complex,” the Administrator says about the process for closing youth correctional facilities. “It’s threading a needle through several things: closing a facility responsibly, addressing the employment and economic concerns, then shifting the resources away from incarceration through the budget process, and lifting up and supporting the communities that are most impacted by incarceration.”
The column opens with an overview of the Administrator’s professional life, which has centered on ending youth incarceration and reforming juvenile justice systems. She refers to OJJDP’s support for community-based alternatives that support families and provide justice-involved youth with mentors and opportunities for change. She also comments on feedback she heard from youth who attended OJJDP town halls last summer.
“Every time I hear from young people in the justice system about what they have had to endure and what we have put them through as a society, it is outrageous to me,” she says. “It’s what fuels me to stay in this field and to stay focused. After 25 years, I’m still outraged. It’s what makes me come to work every day because we owe it to these young people. What young people want is not something that doesn’t exist. It’s housing, education, and a job.”
AMBER Alert and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium To Convene in Tucson
The 2023 AMBER Alert and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium will take place April 19–20, 2023, in Tucson, AZ. This is the first time the event will be held in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The in-person format is intended to encourage connections between AMBER Alert coordinators, clearinghouse managers, child abduction response team coordinators, and Tribal representatives. These professional connections help foster collaborations across jurisdictions, enabling quick responses when children go missing.
The symposium supports the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance program’s mission—providing training and tools to law enforcement professionals and child protection partners to support coordinated efforts and safely recover missing and endangered children. The 2023 symposium will add separate programming tracks tailored to the various roles these professionals play. For example, programming for Tribal representatives will focus on helping Tribal communities integrate their AMBER Alert systems with state systems, and sessions will address cultural sensitivities specific to Tribes.
OJJDP’s Model Programs Guide Adds Programs for Youth Mentoring, Antibullying, and Substance Use
OJJDP’s online Model Programs Guide is a resource for practitioners and communities about programs and practices that work—and do not work—in youth justice, delinquency prevention, and child protection and safety. It provides systematic, independent reviews and evidence evaluations. Programs are rated effective, promising, or no effect (strong evidence indicates that the program did not achieve its intended outcomes when implemented with fidelity).
The Model Programs Guide shares a database with CrimeSolutions, a National Institute of Justice resource. Recent updates include the re-review of a practice profile examining parental involvement in antibullying programs for youth, adding a second meta-analysis. First added to the database in April 2021, the practice includes programs with a parent-involved component intended to reduce bullying victimization and bullying by youth. It is rated promising for improving positive parenting skills and for reducing bullying victimization, bullying by youth, and negative parenting, but received a no effects rating for reducing youth depression.
Youth-initiated mentoring—a practice that empowers young people to identify, develop, and strengthen natural mentoring relationships from their existing social network—received mixed ratings. It is rated promising for improving psychological, health, school/academic, and social outcomes, but received a no effects rating for improved cognitive functioning.
Programs for treating substance use by adolescents ages 14 to 17 received an effective rating for improving substance use outcomes. Approximately 2.6 million youth ages 12 to 17 met the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder in 2020, yet only 12 percent participated in substance use treatment programs. Youth in treatment programs showed improved substance use outcomes compared with “practice as usual,” such as referral to standard community services. Substance use treatment can include cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, occupational skills training, and programs that use a combination of these options along with pharmacologic treatment.
Online Resource Helps Children’s Advocacy Centers Develop Medical Programs
With funding from OJJDP, the Midwest Regional Children’s Advocacy Center developed a medical toolkit for children’s advocacy centers—a starting point to help establish medical programs that serve child victims of abuse. The toolkit is divided into four sections that address:
- The importance of identifying the existing services a center can provide and the level at which they should be offered.
- Logistical considerations, such as standards of practice, documentation, equipment lists, job descriptions, and best practices for achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Professional development of medical staff at a children’s advocacy center, including accreditation and continuing education requirements.
- Expectations for continuous quality improvement of the medical program.
The toolkit includes sample policies and procedures for medical program protocols, benchmarks to meet and exceed standards for child sexual abuse evaluations, and relevant articles from the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.
The goal is to help children’s advocacy centers provide competent, child-centered, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed medical evaluations. “Not every program will be able to provide all recommended services, and that’s okay,” the authors say. “What’s important is recognizing limitations in your capabilities and knowing when to utilize medical facilities that provide higher tertiary services.”
System-Involved Youth More Likely To Have Been Exposed to Violence as Children
Most researchers agree that childhood exposure to violence happens too frequently in the United States. Children Exposed to Violence, a Model Programs Guide literature review sponsored by OJJDP, examines research on the prevalence and consequences of such exposure and approaches to preventing, reducing, and addressing its consequences.
Although childhood exposure to violence is itself a negative experience, research also links it to increased risk for negative consequences, including mental and physical health problems, risky sexual behaviors, substance use, poor educational outcomes, delinquency, violence, and involvement in the juvenile justice system. Youth involved in the juvenile justice system have higher levels of childhood exposure to violence than the general youth population. Among system-involved youth, childhood exposure to violence is associated with increased delinquent behavior, gun carrying, and reoffending; researchers also found greater exposure to violence to be a statistically significant predictor of being charged with homicide as an adolescent.
Juvenile Justice Facility Characteristics Affect Rates of Youth-Reported Sexual Victimization
Approximately 7.5 percent of youth housed in male-only juvenile justice facilities reported incidents of sexual victimization in 2018, according to Facility Characteristics of Sexual Victimization of Youth in Juvenile Facilities, 2018 –Statistical Tables from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Approximately 4.9 percent of youth in female-only facilities and 6.3 percent of youth in facilities housing both male and female youth reported incidents of sexual victimization.
Youth in female-only facilities (3.3 percent) or mixed-gender facilities (3.2 percent) reported youth-on-youth sexual victimization more than twice as often as youth in male-only facilities (1.4 percent). However, youth in male-only facilities reported staff sexual misconduct (6.6 percent) more often than youth in female-only (2.6 percent) or mixed-gender (4.0 percent) facilities.
Other factors affecting rates of youth-reported sexual victimization include:
- Facility size: A larger percentage of youth in facilities housing 51 to 100 young people (6.6 percent) or more than 100 young people (7.4 percent) reported staff sexual misconduct than youth in facilities with 10 to 25 young people (3.8 percent).
- Gang activity: Sexual victimization was reported more often by young people in facilities where a majority of youth reported the presence of gang activity (8.5 percent) than in facilities where no youth reported gang activity (0.5 percent).
- Occupancy per room: Young people in facilities where all youth reported having their own rooms were less likely to report sexual victimization (3.1 percent) than those in facilities where half or fewer youth reported having their own rooms (7.3 percent).
Tables in this document supplement the full Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Sexual Victimization Reported by Youth in Juvenile Facilities, 2018.
Indicators of Youth Health and Well-Being Reflect Worrisome Trends
Youth mental health continues to decline in the United States, with suicidal thoughts and behaviors on the rise for nearly all subgroups of high school students, according to Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011–2021. In 2021, more than 40 percent of students said feelings of sadness or hopelessness kept them from participating in regular activities for 2 weeks or more during the previous year.
Published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the report presents data collected in 2021 through the CDC’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey and reports trends based on 10 years of data. The report focuses on a range of adolescent health behaviors and experiences, including substance use, experiences of violence, and sexual behavior. It also addresses social determinants of health, such as unstable housing, and protective factors, such as parental monitoring. While some data reflect positive trends, others are dire.
- The CDC noted improvement in several indicators of youth health and well-being between 2011 and 2021, including substance use, risky sexual behavior, and the proportion of youth bullied at school. However, there were declines in almost all other indicators, including protective sexual behaviors (such as condom use), experiences of violence, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and overall mental health.
- Experiences varied by subsets of students. In 2021, 57 percent of female students and 69 percent of students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, or another nonheterosexual identity (LGBQ+) reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless. More than 1 in 4 female students seriously considered suicide, and more than 1 in 5 LGBQ+ students attempted suicide.
- In 2021, approximately 3 percent of students experienced unstable housing—a problem that was more common among Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native students than among Asian, Hispanic, and white students. Students with same-sex partners or who identify as LGBQ+ were also more likely to experience unstable housing.