June 2001

Grant Results


From 1993 to 1996, staff at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (RFK) established the National Juvenile Justice Project (NJJP), a comprehensive juvenile justice reform model designed to rehabilitate, rather than simply incarcerate, young offenders through programs that deal with the possible causes of criminal behavior, including illegal drugs and alcohol, family problems, and lack of education and job opportunities.

Based in Washington, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial works to advance the human rights movement through providing innovative support to courageous human rights defenders around the world.

Key Results

  • Through the grant, the National Juvenile Justice Project provided technical assistance for six jurisdictions: in California; Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Michigan; and Nebraska.

    Each jurisdiction made progress toward creating community-based alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent juvenile offenders substance abuse treatment and early intervention, though in different degrees. For example, the population in a District of Columbia juvenile detention center dropped from a high of 240 to 150, while the population in the Wayne County, Mich., youth detention center dropped to 160 to 200 from a high of 240.
  • The Connecticut legislature drafted a new juvenile code providing less serious offenders with community-based alternatives to incarceration.
  • The project director concluded that although community-based programs are less costly in the long run, reducing the population of a large institution does not yield enough revenue to cover start-up costs for the new alternatives. Funds to develop community-based alternatives must therefore be in place before large incarceration facilities can be closed.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project through a grant of $834,015.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
 Back to the Table of Contents


More than half of all committed juvenile offenders have used alcohol or illegal drugs regularly before being imprisoned, according to the Children's Defense Fund. For example, in the District of Columbia, slightly more than a third of young offenders are charged with drug dealing, according to RFK.

While the majority of youth are detained for property offenses, it is estimated that most were using drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the offense. Despite such extensive involvement with drugs and alcohol, less than 10 percent of youth are considered to have serious enough addictions to warrant substance abuse treatment, according to RFK.

Research by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention demonstrates strong correlation between drug use, criminal behavior, and other nonconforming behavior. The office posits that early intervention efforts aimed at any one of the cofactors may reduce other destructive behavior as well.

Youth offenders, however, are generally confined in juvenile detention facilities or training schools, which have a recidivism rate of up to 75 percent, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a private research center in San Francisco.

With the goal of reducing the number of young repeat offenders and the risk to public safety from their recidivism rates, Massachusetts closed its juvenile detention facilities in the early 1970s, replacing them with a decentralized, statewide network of community-based services.

According to RFK, from its initiation in the early 1970s and through the early 1990s, the Massachusetts model reduced juvenile rates of return to prison to 23 percent while reducing the annual per capita costs of providing services for juvenile offenders to less than one-third the national average. Other states — Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Oregon — followed this example and moved toward comprehensive local services for youth offenders.

 Back to the Table of Contents


This grant from RWJF enabled RFK to establish NJJP, a comprehensive juvenile justice reform model for the purpose of rehabilitating, rather than simply incarcerating, young offenders through programs that dealt with the possible causes of criminal behavior, including illegal drugs and alcohol, family problems, and lack of education and job opportunities.

NJJP was based on the innovative juvenile justice reform model developed in Massachusetts. RFK was founded in 1968 and serves people "threatened by poverty, conflict, and oppression" through its Center for Human Rights.

As a first step, the project director convened a planning meeting in August 1993 that included national juvenile justice experts, RFK board members, and representatives from other foundations with ongoing juvenile justice projects. With the Massachusetts model in mind, attendees at that meeting determined that a successful community-based juvenile justice system would:

  1. separate serious from less serious offenders;
  2. decentralize and — when possible — privatize services;
  3. reintegrate youths with their communities;
  4. provide programs in drug treatment and prevention, special education, job training, and violence prevention;
  5. provide adequate training in those areas for the adults who would work with juvenile offenders.

NJJP worked with lead agencies in six jurisdictions providing assistance for them to implement reform efforts:

  • Los Angeles County, Calif.: the county probation department
  • Connecticut: the state's Department of Children and Families
  • Washington, D.C.: the district's Youth Services Administration
  • Maryland: the state's Department of Juvenile Justice
  • Wayne County, Mich.: the County Executive
  • Nebraska: the state's newly formed Office of Juvenile Services

Two other sites, in Georgia and Illinois, were also selected but ended their involvement with NJJP by mutual consent. According to the project director, political barriers to reform proved too high in those sites.

All selected sites had already initiated some steps toward developing a community-based approach. Washington, D.C., and Michigan had done so because they were under court order to correct overcrowding and other detrimental conditions in their respective juvenile detention centers. Connecticut, on the other hand, had demonstrated proactive legislative and administrative interest in the implementation of community-based programs.

NJJP staff traveled to each site about once a month to meet with key juvenile justice officials, visit juvenile correctional facilities, assess current systems, establish action plans, and engage a wide range of stakeholders in the reform process, including governors, legislators, judges, private agencies, and youth advocates. NJJP staff provided start-up technical assistance for each jurisdiction, including helping state agencies develop proposals to secure external funding, consulting in staff development and program design, gathering and analyzing information, and improving stakeholder networks within each jurisdiction.

RWJF and NJJP expected that each jurisdiction would raise additional money from government and/or foundation grants to underwrite implementation. NJJP also contracted with an expert in juvenile justice reform to conduct a qualitative assessment of the project.

 Back to the Table of Contents


  • Los Angeles County, Calif. NJJP provided assistance for Los Angeles Juvenile Probation (LAJP) as it worked to reintegrate into the community certain offenders who were leaving county youth camps (where youth were secured in a facility but received education, recreational opportunities, and counseling) and returning to the Pico Aliso housing project in East Los Angeles. NJJP facilitated communications between LAJP, the Pico Aliso residents, the Los Angeles Housing Authority (LAHA), and Jobs for a Future, a program run by Fr. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with violent gangs in Los Angeles through job-training programs and a local employment network. NJJP provided a structure and an impetus for these previously disconnected stakeholders so they could meet regularly and discuss community reintegration of juvenile offenders. NJJP also hired a grant writer to work with stakeholders to develop funding proposals. Three grant proposals were unsuccessful; a fourth, to the White Memorial Medial Center Foundation, yielded $6,720 to support neighborhood residents through Father Boyle's project. NJJP also collected, analyzed, and shared with LAJP the data from two drug treatment boot camps (intensive, short-term, military-like programs focusing on participants' substance abuse) opened in 1990 as alternatives to the probation department's traditional youth camps.
  • Connecticut. NJJP staff advised Connecticut's Department of Children and Families (DCF) about developing a new system for juvenile offenders — one that emphasized community-based supervision programs over incarceration at the Long Lane School, the state's juvenile detention center. NJJP's project director advised DCF about drafting a new juvenile code and was invited by the speaker of the state House of Representatives to testify before the legislature on the components of a balanced juvenile justice system. While remanding violent juvenile offenders to adult court, the new code provided less serious offenders with community-based alternatives to the Long Lane School. NJJP also assisted the Connecticut court system in structuring a range of community sanctions for less serious offenders. With a $45,000 contract from DCF, NJJP developed a classification system that directed juvenile offenders to programs that meet their treatment needs while preserving public safety. NJJP also recommended ways DCF could maximize available federal and other funds for juvenile justice projects. In fiscal year 1997, DCF received a budget increase of $6.7 million to develop specialized programs for sex offenders as well as community-based residential programs for girls, while the state court's Office of Alternative Sanctions received a $3-million increase for community-based alternatives to pretrial detention programs.
  • Washington, D.C. NJJP helped D.C.'s Youth Services Administration (YSA) plan a continuum of intervention, treatment, and rehabilitation. YSA was under court order to reform the conditions of confinement at the district's three youth detention and correctional facilities: the Receiving Home, Cedar Knoll, and Oak Hill. NJJP staff assisted YSA in reforming the latter's institution-based system by developing a continuum of intervention, treatment, and rehabilitation. And NJJP staff also helped gather representatives from YSA, the judiciary, the Public Defender Service, the D.C. prosecutor's office, and DC Court Social Services into a task force that examined issues ranging from judicial concerns to health care, to community-based prevention and diversion programs. NJJP provided assistance in extending participation in the district's juvenile justice system to several community-based organizations involved in offender rehabilitation education, housing, and job training. Through these efforts, several community-based treatment programs — including a shelter program as an alternative to pretrial detention, a home custody program, and a program to preserve or reunify families — were added to YSA's portfolio of programs. NJJP commissioned a study that documented DC's overuse of pretrial detention for youths. As the project ended, Oak Hill's population had been reduced to 150 from a high of 240 due to the closing of Cedar Knoll and the Receiving Home. NJJP also helped YSA prepare an application for a $1-million two-year grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which was awarded. Supplemental project funding included $100,000 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the US Department of Justice, $50,000 from the Freddie Mac Foundation, and $70,000 from fines imposed by the court because of the conditions in YSA facilities.
  • Maryland. NJJP staff assisted officials in examining the state's Department of Juvenile Justice expenditure management system. NJJP also produced an extensive study of Maryland's placement process for newly committed juvenile offenders and its procedures for funding service contracts. NJJP produced a report analyzing both placement and expenditure management protocols with recommendations for simplification of current practices, which was shared with juvenile justice administrators.
  • Wayne County, Mich. NJJP worked with the jurisdiction's Youth Services Division to reduce the population at the Wayne County Detention Center, which had been cited by the US Justice Department for improper management and abuse of incarcerated youths. NJJP staff suggested methods to determine which pretrial youth could safely move from detention to a community-based alternative and helped detention center staff implement these risk-assessment tools. NJJP helped the state's Office of Juvenile Delinquency design transitional programs for juvenile offenders nearing the end of confinement and arranged for Wayne County officials to visit model transitional programs in Massachusetts. By the end of the project, the detention center population was fluctuating between 160 and 200 from a high of 240 before the project. With a $25,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund, NJJP hired national experts in juvenile corrections to help YSD design two training programs that would improve staff training and supervision.
  • Nebraska. NJJP staff worked with Nebraska's newly established Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) to develop a strategic plan for a continuum of care, which would decentralize services away from the state's two training schools in which juveniles were incarcerated. Employing strategies such as a residential evaluation center, a secure treatment facility, and day/evening treatment and outreach, the planned system would assign each offender a case manager who would develop an individual treatment plan. NJJP also developed an implementation strategy and timetable for this new treatment model. NJJP advised the OJS director in the development of the new agency's mission statement and organizational structure and counseled him in handling relationships with the legislature, the judiciary, law enforcement, offenders' families, and the media. With NJJP funding, OJS executives visited Massachusetts to view that state's juvenile treatment programs. NJJP also conducted an assessment of Nebraska's 247 incarcerated juveniles to help OJS identify low-risk offenders and remand them to nonincarceration programs.


The project produced two short reports, The National Juvenile Justice Project and The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial National Juvenile Justice Project: An Evaluation. A New York Times article that mentioned the NJJP project resulted in local media interest in the Connecticut project.

The project director gave a presentation at a Washington, D.C., forum sponsored by RFK with non-RWJF funding for judges, prosecutors, public defenders, educators, and law students entitled "The Unnecessary Detention of Children in the District of Columbia." The Washington Post covered that symposium. RFK chairman Ed Guthmann wrote pieces on Father Boyle's ministry for the Los Angeles newspapers. In Nebraska, local media covered the stakeholders' conference, and the Lincoln Journal-Star interviewed NJJP's national project director about NJJP efforts at the Nebraska site.

 Back to the Table of Contents


  1. While community-based programs are less costly in the long run, reducing the size of a large institution will not yield enough revenue to cover start-up costs for the new alternatives, according to the project director. Funds to develop community-based alternatives must therefore be in place before large incarceration facilities can be closed.
  2. Public perceptions of increased juvenile crime can hamper reform efforts. Juvenile arrest rates soared from 1988 to 1994, creating political pressure to increase juvenile incarceration rather than broaden treatment to include community-based alternatives. The demise of the NJJP in Georgia and Illinois is attributable to such political pressure.

 Back to the Table of Contents



Development of Substance Abuse Programs in the Juvenile Justice System


Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (Washington,  DC)

  • Amount: $ 834,015
    Dates: May 1993 to September 1996
    ID#:  021232


Edward J. Loughran
(617) 723-3314

Web Site


 Back to the Table of Contents


(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)


Guarino-Ghezzi, S. The Robert Kennedy Memorial National Juvenile Justice Project: An Evaluation. Boston, Mass.: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, December, 1996.

Loughran E. The National Juvenile Justice Project. Boston, Mass.: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial.

Presentations and Testimony

Ned Loughran, at a symposium entitled "The Unnecessary Detention of Children in the District of Columbia," Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, June 24, 1995, Washington, D.C.

Print Coverage

"Corrections Innovator Extols Supervision over Incarceration," in Providence Journal, June 14, 1994.

"Project Aims to Replicate Massachusetts Experiment," in Criminal Justice, June 15, 1994.

"Hard Time for Hard Youths: A Battle Producing Few Winners," in the New York Times, December 28, 1994.

"Beyond Probation: Trying to Break Cycle of Arrest and Rearrest," in the New York Times, December 29, 1994.

"New Juvenile Justice System Brainstormed at Conference," in Lincoln Journal-Star, January 8, 1996.

"Connecticut Takes Middle Road in Juvenile Justice Overhaul," in Criminal Justice Newsletter, July 17, 1995.

 Back to the Table of Contents

Report prepared by: Robert H. White
Reviewed by: Janet Heroux
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Marguerite Johnson
Program Officer: Eric Coleman
Program Officer: Floyd Morris