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$15 million from MacArthur Foundation for juvenile justice reform

The MacArthur Foundation has just announced $15 million in grants to four organizations working for juvenile justice reform, on top of its existing work in the area. This $15 million brings MacArthur’s total investment, over the past 20 years, to $165 million in grants to organizations promoting efforts to promote fair access to the courts for juvenile offenders, enhanced training for all those involved in the juvenile justice system, diversion programs for low-level and status offenders, and a variety of issues of concern to youth in criminal and delinquency courts nationwide.

According to the ABA Journal, the motivation is significant research showing that young people are substantially different from adults and shouldn’t be treated the same way by the courts. As the U.S. Supreme Court found last year in its landmark case Miller v. Alabama, chronological age is known to have a demonstrable effect on criminal culpability.

Factors such as maturity, degree of impetuosity and developmental ability to understand risks and predict consequences are not yet fixed in minors. Their family and home environments can strongly impact young people’s choices. Each juvenile must be evaluated individually to determine the most effective response to delinquency or criminal behavior, and punishments that deny any chance for rehabilitation, such as life in prison without parole, the court said, violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Reforms like the elimination of life without parole for juveniles and raising the age at which people are tried as juveniles are examples of progress toward a system that is fair, just, and humane in its treatment of our nation’s youth,” MacArthur’s director of justice reform said in a press release. “There has been so much progress made over the past decade toward better outcomes for kids, their families, and their communities. But there is so much more to do, and juvenile justice reform must continue.”

The $15 million will be used to develop four national resource centers, which the foundation hopes will be up and running by the end of this year. The projects include:

  • A National Juvenile Defender Center aimed at improving fair access to quality juvenile defense
  • A Status Offense Reform Center, led by the Vera Institute of Justice, focused on youth diversion programs
  • The Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, led by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, to improve outcomes and juvenile justice system performance
  • The Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change, led by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice at Policy Research Inc., to provide practitioner education and technical assistance

Source: ABA Journal, “With $15M in grants, MacArthur establishes 4 juvenile justice reform centers,” Molly McDonough, Aug. 21, 2013

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