Projects: Family Partnerships for Criminal Justice Reform

Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ), in partnership with Justice for Families (J4F) and with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is working with Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to focus the department’s policies and programming on the needs and concerns of youth’s families. 

Connection to community and family, broadly defined to include the diverse support young people have outside of blood relations, is the organizing principle of DJJ’s reform efforts. Vera is supporting these efforts through training, technical assistance, and collaborative research. Vera is surveying staff, families, and incarcerated youth and will work with youth to analyze findings and draft recommendations for change.

Vera is developing a framework across the agency to create sustainable partnerships with families and communities, from the individual youth case level through to a policy and administrative level, including a plan for a young person’s transition home. Additionally, Vera is working with incarcerated youth to create youth advisory councils that will provide opportunities for them to formally respond to DJJ reforms, policies, and practices.

Vera is also training all DJJ staff on family engagement tools—such as the Juvenile Relational Inquiry Tool and family mapping tools—to support the rollout of a new community model for housing youth.

Why partner with youth and families?

Findings from a study in Ohio suggest that youth who receive more visits than their peers have fewer behavioral incidents and better educational outcomes (Villalobos Agudelo, 2013). Frequent parent visitation also correlates with a more rapid reduction in depression symptoms among youth (Monahan et al., 2011). Based off of this growing body of research, the National Research Council has recognized the importance of incarcerated youth’s relationships with their loved ones.

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Featured Expert

Research Director, Center on Youth Justice