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Recipe for Reform: How to Improve Your Juvenile Justice System

December 6, 2011
Benjamin Chambers

What Does it Take to Significantly Reform the Juvenile Justice System at the Local and State Levels?

juvenile-justice-reform-funders-advocacy-publicationsThree new publications show reformers and funders what the key ingredients are to effective reform that affects the lives of thousands of youth in trouble with the law:

  • Then there's the remarkable Notorious to Notable: The Crucial Role of the Philanthropic Community in Transforming the Juvenile Justice System in Washington, D.C., released by The Campaign for Youth Justice, an NJJN partner. Notorious documents the transformation of Washington D.C.'s broken juvenile justice system into an effective system that keeps most youth in the community. Among other things, it demonstrates four things about how that transformation was accomplished:
    • Foundations have considerable power to make a positive impact when they pool their efforts to work on common goals with advocates, policymakers, and community members.
    • Even funders that have little or no experience supporting juvenile justice reform can play a part in successful system change.
    • Funding advocacy -- steady work to inform key policymakers of the need for change and the importance of staying the course -- is one of the keys to success.
    • It's not just about money. Funders played a number of critical roles in D.C.'s transformation, for instance by providing leadership and lending credibility to the reform efforts. 
  • One of our funders, The Tow Foundation, recently released a brochure, "The Power of Advocacy," that makes a similar case from the point of view of a funder. Using case studies of reform victories achieved in Connecticut in delinquency prevention, the school-to-prison pipeline, and in a battle to "raise the age" at which teens are automatically sent to adult court, "The Power of Advocacy" argues convincingly that funders only achieve lasting strategic impact when they underwrite organizations that engage in advocacy.  

Persuasion Tools for Policymakers and Funders

There's a lot to learn from these three publications about how partnerships between reformers and funders can be most effective. Indeed, they're excellent leave-behinds if you're trying to convince a skeptical program officer to invest in juvenile justice reform:

  • "The Power of Advocacy" shows that such partnerships allow funders to help thousands of people;
  • Lightning shows how a successful advocate for juvenile justice reform achieves success over the long-term; and
  • Notorious includes "lessons learned" and key strategies foundations can use to achieve success.  


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