7 Juvenile Justice Reform Trends to Watch For in 2022

Posted by MST Services

Jun 9, 2022 9:00:00 AM


As a result of the many events that have occurred since 2020, and are still occurring, including juvenile and criminal justice reform, a mental health epidemic, the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid overdose surges, and ongoing unemployment, practices are being put into place in order to rebuild our communities.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen many data points rise and fall due to the virus and its restrictions on in-person facilitation. In fact, a survey by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the use of juvenile detention reached a 19-month high in 2021. Nate Balis, director of the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group acknowledged, “It’s concerning that the juvenile detention population is the highest it’s been since before the pandemic and that racial disparities have only worsened over the last 18 months.” The more statistics we see released that affect our children, families, and communities, the more we can expect to see vital trends shaping 2022 and into the future.

7 Trends We Should Expect to See in 2022

To help reduce youth violence and empower children and families, policies and practices are developed and put into place to establish a change in society. The following 7 topics are trending in the juvenile justice, criminal justice, and child welfare systems:

  • Mental Health Awareness: Although mental health problems have always existed, mental health awareness is growing globally. News platforms, influencers, celebrities, schools, doctors, and even Olympians are using their voices to break the mental health stigma and encourage seeking treatment.

    Youth and adults of all ages, races, and genders can be affected by mental health problems. Within the past few years, we have especially seen its toll on adolescents; one in seven youth ages 10-19 experiences a mental health disorder worldwide. A report by The Trevor Project states that 35% of LGBTQ youth who are without a home and 28% who experience housing instability reported a suicide attempt in the past year, along with being 4 times more likely to have depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. Additionally, suicide is the leading cause of death worldwide for individuals 10-34 years old. While these are just a few statistics, many countries, organizations, and individuals are raising awareness on mental health in youth and adults, the impact and effect it can have, and why it is important to talk about it.

  • Funding: With the rise in substance misuse, mental health disorders, unemployment, and other consequences due to the pandemic, many countries are providing local and government funding to support additional services and treatment for their citizens.

    In the U.S., the American Rescue Act was passed to help provide support and resources to children, families, and communities in all states. This legislation will allow communities and schools to implement evidence-based programs, interventions, after-school activities, and extra services to help reduce mental health or substance abuse conditions in adolescents and adults. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health to provide affordable and accessible care to 12 countries and more than 100 million people. Lastly, the United Kingdom and Canada have teamed up to invest 4.4 million dollars into a Global Mental Health program that consists of 18 mental health innovations for youth in low and middle-income countries. We can expect to see initiatives like these as new data and investments become available.
  • School Safety: School safety around the world has been an ongoing task and now more than ever, training and protocols are being put into place regarding school violence, drug prevention, security threats, natural disasters, etc.

    In response to the school shooting in Uvalde, TX, communities and leaders are discussing ways to effectively protect students in schools. Gun violence can be experienced in several forms, including receiving threats or being injured with a firearm, seeing a violent event occur with a weapon, or even witnessing someone you know killed because of a gun. The number of students who have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine in 1999 has exceeded 311,000. Moreover, there have been 27 school shootings this year. Children, families, educators, and communities are dealing with ongoing trauma and mental health issues following these tragedies. 

    Additionally, the opioid epidemic in the U.S. has led to officials recommending additional training, education, and resources on substance abuse, specifically with the medicine naloxone, a drug that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. Between 2015 and 2019, 21,689 U.S. adolescents died of an unintentional drug overdose. Due to the record number of overdoses, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released a model law promoting the use of naloxone in schools. As of 2020, there are 20 states that permit naloxone in educational facilities. Further prevention and policies in schools can help address the causes and solutions education systems experience.
  • Early Intervention and Screening: With the rise of mental health awareness and the serious toll it can take on one’s life and communities as a whole, early intervention and screening can play a large part in effectively treating mental health conditions and preventing them from worsening.

    According to a study, half of mental health illnesses start by the age of 14 years old. Although there has been an uptick in mental health services, they are still not always readily accessible, especially for young people. Without early intervention and screening, teens who struggle with mental health can become involved in the juvenile justice system, show antisocial behaviors, or develop a substance use disorder. Through the use of evidence-based interventions and mental health screening, experts can detect the problems and solutions that might fit a youth and their family, leading to a positive path in the future instead of disabling effects.

    For instance, the state of New Jersey recently invested $1 million in student wellness screenings to identify and connect them to help on a regular basis. Several other states and countries have plans put in place to effectively reach children before their symptoms escalate.
  • Community-Based Services: Instead of sending juveniles to detention, community-based programs are put into place as a more holistic and restorative alternative. Youth detention centers lead to negative outcomes among minors, but community-based services are proven to better rehabilitate not only the teen but also their family. Additionally, these types of programs are cost-effective for communities and prevent recidivism among teens.

    Although these types of services can be difficult to fund, the American Rescue Plan intends to provide funds for youth mental health. The legislature states that $50 million will be dedicated to “community-based funding for local behavioral health needs worsened by the pandemic, $30 million for community-based funding for local substance use services, and $420 million in Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHS).”

    States are starting to reallocate their spending that was once on youth incarceration to community-based programs that offer increased benefits for the family and community as a whole.

  •  Evidence-Based Programs: There is a growing focus on evidence-based programs and services today. These treatments are in demand due to the research behind them and the effective results they produce.

    The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), a starting point for reform for children and families, promotes evidence-based programs that support family preservation and reduce the need for child welfare system placement. Lately, many U.S. states are getting their FFPSA plans approved, which will allow them to provide funding for evidence-based programs that will ultimately reduce out-of-home placements and keep families together.

    In addition to creating positive changes in communities, these programs also produce high returns on investment. For example, Pennsylvania invested in seven evidence-based programs, including Multisystemic Therapy. The programs resulted in reductions in the costs of corrections, welfare and social services, drug and mental health treatment, and an increase in tax revenue and employment of $317 million. For every dollar invested, the return ranges between $1 and $25.

  • Reducing Youth Incarceration: Diverting young people from detention facilities has been a long mission of the U.S., considering it is one of the countries with the highest incarceration rates. According to The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 36,000 youth are in custody today. Incarcerating minors comes with many concerning consequences like placing them out of their home, separating them from effective supports like counseling, and pulling them from their education. Not only that, but racial disparities still highly exist in these institutions and there needs to be enhanced inclusive, supportive, and community-based treatments for all justice-involved youth.

    Diversion programs divert youth to other effective alternatives. Through the work of states and the federal government, increased funding, awareness, and training have been put into place to establish more effective programs and services for at-risk teens.     

One Juvenile Justice Reform Program You Should Know About

With new funding and research, it is proven that alternatives to juvenile delinquency and out-of-home placements are better options for teenagers and their families. “We know that even a short stay in detention can have profound and potentially lifelong negative consequences for the young people involved,” said Balis. One program that focuses on the entire youth’s ecology and makes goals with the adolescent, their family, and other school and community key participants is Multisystemic Therapy (MST).

MST, an intensive intervention for youth between 12-17 years of age who are at risk of severe system consequences, including arrest, charges, and incarceration, due to externalizing, anti-social, and/or delinquent behaviors, is an alternative to youth incarceration. MST helps families and communities by keeping young people in school or working, reducing crime, preventing out-of-home placement, and saving taxpayer dollars.

With over 70 studies and 140 peer-reviewed journal articles, MST features the largest body of evidence of successful programs for high-risk teens. Through the use of evidence-based research and treatment models, MST produces 54% fewer rearrests over 14 years, a 75% decline in violent felony arrests over 22 years, and 54% less out-of-home placements across all studies. Additionally, MST creates dramatic cost savings for communities— up to $23.59 ROI for every dollar spent on MST and a cost-benefit of up to $200K per youth.

As a result of youth violence, mental health disorders, substance abuse, and other factors on the rise, our communities are left affected and we will not start seeing trends in juvenile justice reform until there are investments in children and adults. In an effort to rebuild and empower the youth and families of our communities, we must be aware of these 7 topics.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration or severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats youth and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of services within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs which could include but is not limited to the following types of interventions: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/ Vocational Support.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Multisystemic Therapy, contact us here.

Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform