Helping Juvenile Justice Facilities Create Healthier Environments

Kids in juvenile facilities are not only grappling with [obesity/overweight or food insecurity], but they are clearly grappling with other challenges that led them to be in a juvenile facility in the first place.” –Chelsea Clinton

Almost two years ago, the Alliance was presented with a unique opportunity to support juvenile justice centers in their efforts to help youth live healthier and to strengthen their transition back into their homes and communities. We joined with two state-level youth services divisions to offer our knowledge and experience about what works well in schools and out-of-school time settings in under-resourced communities. We now continue to collaborate in creating a framework for health for our nation’s residential placement environments.

Healthy Kids Have Better Life Outcomes:

  • Exercise can ameliorate anxiety and depression induced by an adverse early-life environment.
  • Improved diet and nutrition education have reduced disciplinary problems and improved morale.
  • Proper nutrition is essential to healthy youth development.
  • Nutrient-dense diets have reduced violence and anti-social behavior.
  • Physical activity is associated with higher grade point averages, lower drop-out rates, and fewer disciplinary problems among students.

Our Approach

The kids that are going to be part of the pilot program, they deserve every tool and every option and every opportunity to make healthier choices.” –Chelsea Clinton

To create healthier environments within the juvenile justice system, we launched a pilot initiative in Arkansas and California to improve nutrition, streamline healthy food procurement and increase quality physical activity opportunities for young people living in residential facilities. We have been successful in transforming schools and out-of-school time environments into healthier places for kids to learn and grow and are using the best practices instituted in those environments to make a similar impact in the justice setting.

During our first year, wellness teams at each site completed our evidence-based Six Step Process and made incremental, yet significant organizational policy or practice changes to benefit the health of the youth they work with.

We continue the pilot within California and Arkansas to inform a national effort to improve access to healthier meals, snacks and quality physical activity for the juvenile justice community.