The Robert Wood Foundation awards $236,000 grant to Circuit Court of Cook County to help troubled youth

Released On 03/11/2002

CHICAGO - The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation today awarded the Circuit Court of Cook County a $232,034 grant to enhance available substance abuse treatment and related ancillary services for minors referred to juvenile court.

"America's juvenile justice system faces a public health crisis," says Laura Burney Nissen, Ph.D., director of Reclaiming Futures, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "As many as four out of five of the two million young people who enter the justice system each year have an alcohol or drug problem. Even though research shows that treating alcohol and drug abuse reduces crime, saves money, and builds stronger communities, the vast majority of young offenders receives no treatment at all."

"We want to change this," says Dr. Nissen. "The grants we are awarding today will create plans for model programs in Cook County and elsewhere in the United States to show how we can reinvent treatment, judicial and social services to meet this urgent need."

The Circuit Court of Cook County's project, called Community Circles, proposes to serve up to 450 minors annually in Chicago's Lawndale community, and eventually a number of contiguous communities, beginning in 2003. The grant award is one of 11 totaling $2.7 million awarded nationwide to plan new treatment and other services for delinquent youth.

"The need for the Community Circles Program is clear," says Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans. "As judges, we recognize that minors who are involved with alcohol and drugs are more likely to commit impulsive, delinquent acts and ultimately be referred to our juvenile justice system. We also understand alcohol and drug abuse is a major health issue that challenges a significant number of court-involved minors in Cook County."

Chief Judge Evans continues, "One of the top priorities of my administration is to support the ongoing systemic reform already initiated at juvenile court with the goal of providing individualized treatment and supervision to minors within the sound framework of public safety."

The court's current drug program has assessed 1,900 minors since its inception in 1996, with an approximate 60 percent success rate of minors enrolled in this program. Current drug program services include assessment and treatment, health care, individual and group counseling, education services and temporary housing.

Judge Curtis Heaston, presiding judge of the Juvenile Justice Division, says, "The court recognizes the need to improve our system's capacity to better assess the motivation and causes of substance abuse and to improve our ability to offer cultural and gender specific services to minors in the Lawndale community. The court is committed to enhancing our partnerships with community mental health providers, education and religious representatives, and community leaders in responding to this most important initiative."

Heaston continued, "This grant will assist the court's community based partnerships in identifying and developing strategies that break the cycle of substance abuse and delinquency. We need to reclaim the lives of our at-risk youth and to develop strength based intervention to support their unique needs. We are excited to have the support of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to promote healthier outcomes and develop more pro-social behavior for these minors and their families."

The Circuit Court of Cook County's Community Circles Program was one of 280 applicants. Over the next five years, Cook County proposes to identify and eliminate gaps in alcohol and drug treatment services, develop aggressive aftercare for young people who have received treatment, and explore providing new services.

Beginning this month, juvenile court judges, representatives from related juvenile court agencies, law enforcement officials, treatment professionals, civic, youth and family leaders in Cook County and the 10 other communities nationally will spend a year planning their programs. In four following years, communities can apply for up to $250,000 annually to implement plans.

Reclaiming Futures officials say judicial leadership will play a critical part in these efforts and local judges in each community will participate in a two-year fellowship. Judge Heaston will represent Cook County in the national fellows program.

Reclaiming Futures is a five-year $21 million initiative of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation based at the Graduate School of Social Work at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was established as a national philanthropy in 1972 and today is the largest U.S. foundation devoted to health and health care. To learn about its mission and work, see


EDITORS AND REPORTERS: For a list of the 11 communities receiving grants, this news release electronically, or information about Reclaiming Futures, visit



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