The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation are collaborating on a $1 million effort targeting the behavioral health needs of youth in contact with the juvenile justice system. The project is aimed at diverting youth with behavioral health conditions from the juvenile justice system to community-based programs and services.
Most youth in contact with the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental, substance use, or co-occurring disorder.
Studies have found that 60-70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system met criteria for a mental disorder; over 60 percent of these youth also met criteria for a substance use disorder. Of those youth with mental and substance disorders, almost 30 percent experienced disorders so severe that their ability to function was highly impaired. Youth with these mental, substance use and co-occurring disorders
often end up unnecessarily in the juvenile justice system rather than getting the proper help they need – help that could vastly improve their prospects for attaining healthy, productive lives.
Under this initiative,
up to eight states will be selected competitively to participate based on their commitment to improving policies and programs for these youth.
This innovative collaborative effort integrates SAMHSA’s Policy Academy mechanism, which brings together state leadership teams to learn about effective interventions and the latest research, and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Action Network strategy, which supports and links teams working on similar innovations in policy and practice. These combined resources will support state efforts to develop and implement policies and programs that divert youth away from the juvenile justice system early.
The initiative will emphasize:
Reducing the overrepresentation of youth of color with mental and/or substance use disorders in the juvenile justice system;
Incorporating mental, substance use and co-occurring screening and assessment practices throughout the juvenile justice system; and
Recognizing the important roles of evidence-based practice, treatment, and trauma-informed services.
"This innovative effort will help ensure that fewer at risk young people fall through the cracks and into an overburdened juvenile justice system that is very often unable to address their underlying behavioral health problems," said SAMHSA Administrator Pam Hyde. "This initiative focuses on helping divert these youth whenever possible to community-based behavioral health services that can actually turn their lives around for the better."
Technical assistance will be provided to the selected states throughout the duration of this initiative to guide the establishment of models and strategies for diverting youth with co-occurring mental and substance use disorders as early as possible from the juvenile justice system to appropriate community based behavioral health service.
“With the seamless integration of SAMHSA’s and MacArthur’s demonstrated strategies for effective training and technical assistance, we will promote broader diffusion and new adaptations of models of best practices to states committed to systems reform,”
said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur’s Director of Juvenile Justice. “More effective diversion policies and programs will result in improved public safety, better youth and family outcomes, and save taxpayer money. The s
tates selected will have access to leading experts in the field and the latest research and information on front-end diversion policies and programs for youth with co-occurring disorders.”
For more information or for an application, contact SAMHSA’s David DeVoursney,
SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. This current effort falls within the Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative. One of the overarching goals of this initiative is to better address the needs of persons with mental and/or substance use disorders involved with the criminal and juvenile justice systems. More information is available at
About the MacArthur Foundation
The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. More information is at
About Models for Change
Models for Change is a national initiative supported by the MacArthur Foundation to accelerate reform of juvenile justice systems across the country. Focused on efforts in select states, the initiative aims to create replicable models for reform 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 to themselves and to public safety. More information is at
SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.