Youth Justice and Juvenile Treatment Courts with Jacqueline van Wormer, Ph.D.
During this interview from RISE23, hear from Jacqueline van Wormer, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Advancing Justice at All Rise.
During the interview, Dr. van Wormer discusses the differences between juvenile and adult treatment courts and the importance of programs and services that specifically support the needs of juveniles. Dr. van Wormer also speaks about recovery capital, which is all of the personal and tangible resources that a person needs in order to initiate and sustain recovery.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: I'm here today with Jackie. Jackie, please introduce yourself to our audience.
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Thank you. I'm Jacqueline van Wormer. I am the Division Director of the Center for Advancing Justice at All Rise.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Wonderful. Well, I'm really happy to be here with you at this conference. And I want to talk to you about juvenile treatment courts.
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Uh-hmm.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: What is the difference between a juvenile treatment court and an adult treatment court and why are those differences important?
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Yes. Excellent question. So the adult drug court model and juvenile treatment court model have some similarities in terms of, like, making sure you're hitting the right target population, the use of contingency management or incentives and sanctions—as we like to refer to it—the importance of the role of the judge—the judge, you know, really coming to understand that youth and the family.
But that is where they start to differ in the sense that, this is a youth that's in a state of development. There is a tremendous amount of adolescent brain development happening at that time. There are—you know, we all know of the key characteristics of adolescent development, right? Risk taking, impulsivity, different sleep schedules, sometimes a little bit grumpy but sometimes very connecting, of course.
And so they're in this state of adolescent development. And, also, naturally these youth are—because they're in a state of development—they're pulling away from their families of origin and finding more time with their friends. And friends and peers are very important.
And so this model, again, you have a youth in a state of adolescent development, who is using substances, which can have a real negative impact on brain development. So that's why this—these types of programs are so important. But, also, they exist within a family structure. And sometimes that family structure may be a great support for them but sometimes those youth may be struggling within that family system. And then, of course, they're still within a school system.
And so these treatment courts differ in the sense that we need to bring a lot more resources to the table. We need to think about not just the adolescent as an individual but an adolescent within the peer space, within the family space, and within the school space, and within the community space as well.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Fascinating. So what are the components that make for a successful juvenile treatment court?
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Yes. You know, actually through the Department of Justice, under the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, they just—OJJDP just completed a very large study of what we call the Juvenile Treatment Court Guidelines. And so, essentially, back in 2016, December of 2016, OJJDP released a new set of guidelines for the juvenile treatment court field. And with that, we had 10 sites that tested the effectiveness of those guidelines.
And some of the sites weren't able to complete the study, but of those that did, we found—the researchers found, basically, that when the courts follow the model—follow the treatment court model—we get good outcomes. And we get good outcomes for youth in the sense of reduced recidivism, higher treatment completion rates, and school—school engagement, because, again, some of the outcomes that we're looking at for adolescents are a bit different than adults.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Adults.
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Yes.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Would you be able to explain to our audience what “recovery capital” is and why is it so important for criminal justice practitioners to consider and focus on it?
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Now, this is a popular term that we're hearing a lot about, recovery capital. So recovery capital is all of the personal and tangible resources that a person needs in order to initiate and sustain recovery. And we know that the science tells us that if an individual can make it to that five- to seven-year mark in recovery, they only have about a 14 percent chance of returning to ongoing use.
So recovery and recovery capital matters. Obviously, having accessibility to effective treatment matters, but building up one’s capital in terms of their personal capital, their social capital, and their community and cultural capital really matters.
So when I speak of personal capital, there's two things there. First, financial capital and then human capital. So financial capital is something we're very good at in the criminal justice system—especially, like, in our probation systems or in treatment courts—thinking about connection to resources, right? That idea of housing first for an individual, right? Meeting their basic needs. So starting with housing, having access to insurance dollars or Medicaid/Medicare dollars. So having the—bus tokens, for example—being able to get to services that are needed. So that's building up one's financial capital as they're beginning that recovery journey.
The human capital is really one's skills and abilities that they hold in order to manage high-risk situations, and it helps to build up their self-esteem and their self-efficacy. It's their value system. It's their knowledge. It's, again, the development of those skills that will help propel them out of that life of ongoing use and into recovery.
Social capital is one's network. And so that is maybe family members that are supportive of their recovery efforts. And when I say family, I mean family defined broadly. So, that can be their family of choice. And it's systems and communities where we have access to needed services. You know, something that's very popular that we see emerging in a lot of communities across the—across the United States is recovery clubs or recovery cafes. And these are places where an individual can go that—when they're in recovery. And, sure, there's going to be sober support groups there, for example, like an AA or an NA meeting, but it's also a place of companionship, of connectedness, of fellowship.
And that's what's really critical in recovery capital is that idea of connectedness. And so in these recovery cafes or recovery clubs, they might operate—they might offer trainings, for example. They might have a barista training or some sort of—they might offer guitar lessons or have yoga or they have an exercise schedule. They have a new running club or a hiking club. It's all fellowship for those that are in that—you know, moving in towards that deep state of recovery. So that's a pretty, pretty great function and a way to help build up that social capital.
And community/cultural capital, that is just ensuring that our communities are fully aware of the power of recovery and supportive of individuals as they—as they take that recover—as they engage in that recovery journey. We have to remember that everyone's pathway to recovery is unique. There's clinical pathways, there's non-clinical pathways, and there's self-management pathways to recovery. And our community, we need to do a better job really of educating community about the power of recovery, but also about the impact of addiction, for example, on the brain, on development, and so that they can bring these people back into community. Because, again, recovery capital is about connectedness, and we know that individuals that have high levels of connectedness have better outcomes in their—in their recovery journey.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: So that's why it's so important to focus on that?
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Absolutely. Absolutely.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Right. Right.
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: And, again, as a criminal justice system, we tend to think about—and I say this as a former probation officer. I was a probation officer...
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Oh, wow.
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: ...for many years. And I would broker out. I'd broker people off to services. And it wasn't until I really took the time to learn those skills around risk and need and responsivity and really understanding responsivity and also the skills that I could bring to help that individual build up their human capital did I feel that I was more effective and my clients benefited more.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Right. And this is part of the adult drug court best practices as well, correct?
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Absolutely. Absolutely.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Yeah.
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Right. Right. And so—you know, oftentimes in treatment courts, we hear a lot about, you know, if you—if you go to a staffing, for example, and you sit in and listen to a staffing, they might start the staffing off by saying, "Well, John had three negative drug screens this week and he attended all treatment sessions and he was home by curfew."
That's important but that's about compliance. What does that tell me about John's recovery capital? How are we helping him to build up that bank of recovery capital? Because, again, those individuals that have higher levels of recovery capital are more likely to engage and sustain in recovery. So that's why it's so important in our therapeutic courts, in our treatment courts, and even in our general criminal justice system to be thinking about helping them to build up that recovery capital. And not just a brokering about of services.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Well—yeah. Yeah. Very interesting. Why do you feel that treatment courts are so essential to providing justice in communities nationwide?
DR. JACQUELINE VAN WORMER: Well, I—you know, I've been at this for a very long time. I was just reflecting recently on a—on my birthday, which was a landmark birthday, and I recognized, "Oh, I've been at this for over 30 years." And the one constant I've seen throughout my entire career, at all points of the criminal justice system—I've worked across this sequential intercept map—is substance use in mental health. It permeates. It's so prevalent in our system.
And so what they're—what treatment courts bring is that balance between safety and compassion and really understanding the nature of addiction. And, again, trying to empower and connect individuals back into communities, and into effective treatments and services and with that support of a whole group of individuals that really care about their long-term success.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.