How Did Connecticut Turn Around Its Juvenile-Justice System?

Posted by Lori Moore

Mar 8, 2016 10:30:00 AM

Using MST to right the ship, Julie Revaz tells the story

What can help reduce the overall number of intakes to the juvenile justice system, support the closing of a detention center, reduce the number of young people in residential settings and help a state improve the overall quality of life for adolescents and their families? 

Julie Revaz, MSW, a manager in Connecticut’s Judicial Branch's Court Support Services Division (JC CSSD), is a key champion of evidence-based practices, and provides the answer to that question and so much more.

The backdrop

In 1995, the state of Connecticut had very few contracted services for its juvenile justice population. The legislature responded by devoting growing sums of money to fill the service gap. Leadership in the state looked around, and not seeing anything immediately available to adequately serve these youths, they set up their own programs to meet the need.

At the time, there were homegrown programs that had a history of success with the adult population. Unfortunately, similar homegrown programs didn’t prove at all effective for juveniles. Revaz had the "luck" to be among those whose responsibility it was to make this new  programming work. The state legislature had put forth a moderate amount of money, and the programs being implemented did not demonstrate the positive outcomes expected. She and others had to quickly respond.

Crisis averted

Fortunately, the JB CSSD had established a Center for Best Practices, and Revaz had already begun to immerse herself in the literature. She read everything she could about what was promising for this population. All roads led to Scott Henggeler and the model he and his colleagues developed—Multisystemic Therapy (MST). For Revaz and her colleagues, MST was the gateway to evidenced-based practices. The endorsements by OJJDP, SAMHSA, WSIPP and the U.S. Surgeon General sealed the deal, and she went about selling it to executive leadership. What was almost a crisis was averted. Before long, the state was knee deep in rolling out evidenced-based practices, including MST, to right the ship and meet the needs of young people and their families.


Greatest successes

For Revaz, her greatest success is also her greatest lesson learned. While the evidenced-based programs got up and running quickly to “right the ship,” implementation was rushed. The state established a lot of evidenced-based programs in a very short time. Looking back, she realizes that many key stakeholder conversations were rushed and believes there were missed opportunities to think together about the critical role of CQI/QA in MST. (Fidelity to the MST Nine Principles as measured by the many aspects of the MST Continuous Quality Improvement/Quality Assurance process is a key part of the success of implementing the model in any community.)

Revaz remembers learning a lot of "model fidelity" and beating a loud drum for all who could hear  that fidelity is the key to long-term success, and "we have to not only hit, but exceed the targets set by MST to be successful."

And successful they were. Out-of-home placements have been reduced by more than 50% in exactly the same timeframe that Connecticut has had MST. Recidivism rates, as measured by re-arrests, are on the decline as well. And, as of April 2016, The Pew Research Center ranked Connecticut as #1 in reducing commitment among juveniles. They speculate it’s likely due in part to investing in services like MST. 

Through changing times, what remains a constant is the state’s commitment to evidence-based programming. For example, in fiscal year 2016-2017, the state’s funding for direct service juvenile justice programs contracted through the JB was reduced by millions of dollars. But despite budget highs and lows, there have only been slight tweaks in the funding available for MST programs.

Finally, for Revaz, it was and continues to be easy to champion MST. “Once I finally made the conceptual commitment to it, I began to see the proof that this parent-focused intervention with its resultant sustainability is an effective remedy for addressing the complex needs of children in our system. And, most importantly, it’s what I’d want for my daughter if she were to find herself in the spot that so many children do.” 

Connecticut has 24 MST teams statewide—4 operated by DCF, 14 operated by the Court Support Services Division, and 6 adaptation teams. 

Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform