Starting in 2000, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation began providing support for programming and research to improve systems for juvenile justice-involved youth with substance abuse challenges: Reclaiming Futures (RF). This was largely due to a recognition for the need to “integrate emerging best practices, increase seamlessness and continuity, and decrease fragmentation, over-reliance on incarceration, and waste—all within the context of a highly diverse and decentralized juvenile justice system” (Nissen & Merrigan, 2011).  The key to RF is working with leaders in the local community (Fellows) to address three key areas: More Treatment, Better Treatment, and Beyond Treatment. More Treatment includes identification, assessment, and connecting to services; Better Treatment includes ensuring that care is effective, evidence-based, and monitored by the local team; and Beyond Treatment includes connecting youth to outside adults or activities that will help them to be successful once they have completed their treatment services. Based on evaluations conducted by Butts and Roman (2007), there were significant improvements in the quality of services in the 10 pilot communities. There were also significant increases in the overall strength of the networks that served juvenile justice-involved youth (Yahner & Butts, 2007). RF can be beneficial in addressing systems that are under change as it can “simultaneously reduce costs and increase positive outcomes, including public safety”.

Since 2008, the North Carolina Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services (DMHDDSAS) has worked collaboratively with the North Carolina Division of Juvenile Justice (formerly the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) at the state and local level. The joint state-level team has supported efforts of local juvenile justice-behavioral health partnerships, including six RF sites. In 2011, DJJ secured funding to expand RF across the state. The Division of Medical Assistance and Administrative Office of the Courts are valuable partners in the strategic planning process.

Local RF teams consist primarily of LME/MCO staff, local DJJ staff, local judges, and treatment and other service providers. These teams have worked in the past few years to increase access to more effective treatment through training in evidence-based treatments (e.g., GAIN and Seven Challenges). Incentives have been available to enhance provider utilization of evidence-based trauma-informed treatments for mental health and substance abuse disorders. During the past 18 months, there has been a major focus on the collection and analysis of data so that these services can be truly data driven. This has led to more effective monitoring of service utilization patterns for juvenile justice-involved youth and families.

For more information, please contact Sonya Brown or Paul Savery at DMHDDSAS or refer to websites, Reclaiming and Turning Lives


Butts J, Roman J. Changing systems: Outcomes from the RWJF Reclaiming Futures initiative on juvenile justice and substance Abuse. A Reclaiming Futures National Evaluation Report. Portland, OR: Reclaiming Futures National Program Office, Portland State University, 2007.

Clark K, Greshan S.  Meeting the health needs of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Washington, DC:  National Academy for State Health Policy, 2006.

Nissen L, Merrigan D, Schubert K. Conclusion to special issue on Reclaiming Futures. Children and Youth Services Review, 2011:33(Suppl 1).

Nissen L, Merrigan D. Helping substance-involved young people in juvenile justice be successful: Conceptual and structural foundations of the Reclaiming Futures model. Children and Youth Services Review, 2011:33(Suppl 1);S3-S8.

Wasserman GA, McReynolds LS, Schwable CS, Keating JM, Jones SA. Psychiatric disorder, comorbidity, and suicidal behavior in juvenile justice youth. Criminal Justice And Behavior, 2010:37(12);1361-76.

Yahner J, Butts J. Agency relations: Social network dynamics and the RWJF Reclaiming Futures initiative. A Reclaiming Futures National Evaluation Report. Portland, OR: Reclaiming Futures National Program Office, Portland State University, 2007.