Youth Services Insider: Day Three from Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

Day Three

The final day in the “City Too Busy to Hate” wrapped up a little after noon, and the many stakeholders of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative have returned home. Pollen Count trended downward today, down to 2429.

What exactly are you supposed to do with that information, by the way? Do people stay indoors because of pollen?

Youth Services Insider continues its travels. I type tonight from the very Hitchcockian Hotel 17 in New York City, a few city blocks from where Cardozo Law School will host an all-day forum on the push to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in New York to 18.

Heard from one New York insider that the legislation crafted with support of Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman isn’t strong enough; the state already has a pretty good youthful offender statute, and the bill doesn’t remove the 16- and 17-year-olds from pre-trial adult facilities. YSI will be interested to see where people at this symposium stand.

We’ll keep this short, because the two biggest draws from day three warrant separate forthcoming write-ups. Here are some quick takeaways from the week:

Tello-Vision: The consensus pick by attendees we talked to for best event was Jerry Tello’s Thursday morning keynote address on the concept of healing young men of color involved in the juvenile justice system.

Yesterday, YSI attended and described a presentation by Jerry Tello on La Cultura Cura, a concept of youth work that entails building strength through ancestral wisdom and identity.

Scroll below to the Day Two roundup for more, but in a nutshell: It was easy for  to see how the charismatic Tello could reach youths through this medium, tough to envision imparting it to staff at a drop-in center, who might leave for a new job the next year or who may not have much experience with the subject matter.

And as is frequently the case, it became evident to YSI that I am a half-wit with much to learn about the world.

“It is absolutely possible, he taught it to me,” said Jessica Sandoval, who is the director of field operations for the Campaign for Youth Justice. Before joining the D.C.-based campaign, Sandoval was a youth worker handling gang-involved teens in Denver.

“It is really one of the only things that made a difference with them,” said Sandoval.

“But at an evening reporting center?” YSI asked.

“That’s where they are!” Sandoval said.

Boom. All that pollen outside was clouding YSI’s ability to reason!

FastPass Probation: Forgot to mention this yesterday. In a late Wednesday session on response and incentive grids, Daniel Hernandez of Orange County Probation in California mentioned a simple way in which the office has made lemonade out of lemons.

When juvenile offenders come in for visits with probation officers, they are often stuck waiting for a long time in the hallways. It is one of the reasons, in fact, that juveniles skipped their meetings, thus exposing themselves to more repercussions.

So Orange County invented a “FastPass” akin to the type that DisneyLand sells. Just as families can buy faster access to rides at the park, juveniles can buy the right to skip right to the front on visit day by meeting a certain amount of consecutive requirements.

Hernandez said the FastPass, which costs the office nothing, is more valuable than some of the tangible incentives built into the probation framework.

JDAI 2014: Outside the Box: Bidding farewell to the 2013 attendees, Casey’s juvenile justice boss Bart Lubow suggested that next year might be the right time to “change the paradigm” of the inter-site conference. It is already one of the livelier affairs in youth services networking, but at its core, the conference does rely heavily on a plenary/workshop balance.

It is a stupendous notion. and YSI is rarely at a loss for words, or I’d be in the wrong profession. Here’s a couple we thought of, in order of plausibility.

Debates. At least once, perhaps twice a day, hold debates on major issues of contention. Have Campaign for Youth Justice CEO Liz Ryan take on a prosecutor on the concept of directly filing juveniles into adult court. Bring in a judge that genuinely believes in detaining status offenders, or girls involved in prostitution, and have them face off with an advocate diametrically opposed to it.

The bread and butter of the conference is discussing the finer points of improving systems, but some well-crafted debates would inject some life into

There are, YSI would guess, about 300 lawyers in the hotel at any given time during an JDAI Inter-Site conference. Let’s have them dust off the old courtroom skills and spice it up!

Hold it on or near a reservation. Lubow announced on Wednesday morning that soon, the first tribal JDAI site would be announced. YSI did not attend the workshop on Native American youth, but heard from someone who did that is was pretty sparsely attended. Holding the conference at a reservation would certainly demonstrate a heightened interest by the foundation.

Make it an All-Casey Conference. Bring child welfare and juvenile justice grantees in on the same conference, and partner with some other groups; perhaps the Child Welfare League of America, Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and the Alliance for Children and Families?

Day Two

Day two of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, the South by Southwest of juvenile justice, is in the books! For the sum-up on day one, scroll below this update.

The pollen count more than doubled to 2,920 from yesterday’s 1,386. Nobody seemed concerned, and Youth Services Insider still don’t really know what a pollen count is.

The morning began with JDAI Master and Commander Bart Lubow’s annual State of the Initiative speech. Usually the speech highlights some recent success and turns to an all-out assault on America’s correctional system.

This time? It highlighted a lot of success, and then turned to an all-out assault on America’s correctional system.

“We have seen continued affirmation that youth are fundamentally different than adults,”  Lubow said. He pointed to the recent Supreme Court decision to ban automatic life-without-parole sentences for juvenile homicide convicts, and the recent National Academy of Sciences publication on juvenile justice history.

Meanwhile, he said, the juvenile justice field “has taken the lead in lowering reliance on confinement,” Lubow said. Casey recently highlighted data showing a drop in juvenile detention and commitments from 105,000 in 1997 to 71,000 in 2010.

And, he said, the decreases in juvenile confinement before and after disposition have been made without increases in juvenile arrests.

As usual, Lubow followed the sugar with a lemon. “No one should confuse this with thinking that 70,000 is a genuine right-sizing,” he said.

And even though the recent decreases in juvenile confinement have included equitable declines across races, the disproportionate minority contact present in juvenile justice “is still certainly unjustified,” Lubow said.

Also included in the speech was mention of two firsts: the first Tribally controlled JDAI site (yet to be announced) and the initiative’s first formal inclusion of crime victims and their supporting organizations.

Adding new sites and partners doesn’t sound to YSI like the actions of a foundation looking to loosen control over its brainchild just yet. Last year at the conference in Houston, Lubow assured the crowd that JDAI wasn’t getting outsourced any time soon. But there was a panel discussion in Houston to discuss what came after “any time soon.”

Some other notes from Day Two:

Listenbee Grounded by Sequestration

There were a record 800 people here, but it was the absence of one that stood out. Lubow confirmed what YSI reported yesterday here: new Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Administrator Bob Listenbee was scheduled to address the conference at noon today, but would not make it because of travel costs.

“If not for sequestration, he’d be with us here today,” said Lubow.

It is hard to really capture the ludicrousness of that. It took one thousand, five hundred and twenty-five days for the Obama Administration to get a leader in place at OJJDP. On March 25, Listenbee took over the job officially from acting administrator Melodee Hanes. And as of April 17, or earlier, he apparently cannot address any large groups in the field unless they’re near a Washington Metro stop.

Here’s why this matters. One of the reasons that advocates and other juvenile justice leaders have been desperate for an OJJDP administrator is so that he, or she, would be able to lend the authority of the federal government to progressive ideas in juvenile justice. And that message would be coming from someone with credibility and experience in the field.

Listenbee, chief of the Juvenile Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia for 16 years, certainly has the credibility and experience. He is expected to put a sharp focus on the trauma- and violence-related circumstances that often yield delinquent behavior, and on improving juvenile defense.

“It’s really disappointing that he couldn’t be here for the biggest gathering of juvenile justice leaders this year,” said Liz Ryan, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice.

Here are the main questions this prompts, in YSI’s humble opinion:

1) What is the extent to which Administrator Listenbee’s travel will be restricted? Will he only be traveling to official OJJDP-organized events? Will he not be traveling at all?

2) Is Administrator Listenbee able to travel to field-organized events if an organizer offered to pay for the travel and accommodations of the administrator? We have no idea if Casey did offer. Or could the administrator be able to pay his own way if he so chose?

We asked those very questions to OJJDP spokeswoman Starr Stepp, who quickly passed that off quickly to Attorney General Eric Holder’s press secretary, Adora Andy. Which, you know, is weird for an inside baseball question from a website almost nobody has heard of (yet!).

Ms. Andy did not respond to those questions. The Chronicle of Social Change will update the situation once someone deigns to help us out over there.

Workshop Roundup

Well, the Achilles’ heel of the Atlanta Hilton became apparent on day two when workshops began. Most of the meeting rooms are really small, making it hard for some attendees to catch some of the workshops. Solid for a modest conference, tough with 800.

YSI caught at least part of workshops on probation sanctions, culture-based programs, conditions of confinement, and what types of intervention programs work. We did not get into discussion on school-to-prison pipeline issues in two cities, nor the session on probation conditions. Just like South by Southwest!

Here’s some quick takeaways from the workshops, in no particular order of importance:

1. Is there any actual study that proves the much-repeated platitude that when you put low-level offenders in with those committed for serious offenses, the low-level offenders are prone to become serious offenders?

We got to thinking that during Crime and Justice Institute consultant Michael Collins presentation on “what works,” in which he said juvenile justice interventions should target the juvenile in between the designations “low-risk” and “high-risk.”

“When you target low-risk youths, he said, “it’s a waste of resources.” And “when you mix low- and high-risk offenders” in the same facilities, he said, “it doesn’t equal medium.”

2. The most compelling workshop YSI attended was Jerry Tello’s presentation on La Cultura Cura, an approach that seeks to heal juveniles and their families by helping them connect to their culture and ancestry.

With many Latino families two generations removed from their roots in another country, Tello said, youths are pushed only toward formal education and “moving into the melting pot.”

For poor Latino and black youths for whom ancestral identity and wisdom isn’t passed down, Tello said, “what happens when you don’t receive these lessons? The neighborhood clique will fill in, they will give you a role and an identity.”

Click here to check out the array of Cultura Cura curricula Tello conducts and trains others on. It is really easy to see how Tello would be able to connect with young people; he is at once funny, emotional and disarming.

His partner at the presentation suggested that La Cultura Cura would be a good fit as something to implement in an evening reporting center. YSI would like to see that in person, because it seems hard to believe you could take what makes Tello stand out and impart that into a program that might see fairly high turnover of its staff.

3. Here’s how not to start a presentation if you want people to pay attention: “I’ll try and make this as painless as possible.

4. Good discussion moderated by longtime JDAI leader Paul DeMuro on the conditions in large juvenile facilities experiencing population reductions. Casey new focus is on keeping juveniles out of deep-end commitments, but DeMuro was pressing his panelists and the audience for input on what Casey should help with or at least recommend for the facilities they hope to depopulate.

A number of audience members, including New York City probation chief Vincent Schiraldi, presented a simple solution: Push the state or county to shut the facility down and go with a smaller facility more suited for rehabilitation and prosocial development.

DeMuro added: “It should be small and it will be costly, and we should come out and say that.”

Other recommendations included developing staffing standards that tied into fiscal penalties, and either shuttering or curbing special management units, which often isolate and brand juveniles as dangerous and unstable.

Day One

Atlanta, Ga.: Youth Services Insider, your faithful provider of industry news at The Chronicle of Social Change, has arrived at the Atlanta Hilton for this year’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) Inter-Site Conference, an Annie E. Casey Foundation production.

Usually, YSI columns are for subscribers only. But since Casey if kind enough to let us wander the halls for free, we’ll match their magnanimity. But you should subscribe, or take a 10-day trial! Shameless plug over.

For the uninitiated: Casey has overseen JDAI for 21 years now. The foundation supports sites in 39 states to examine the way they handle admissions to pre-trial detention of juvenile offenders, and then reconfigure those practices around the idea that detention should be used only in the interest of public safety.

The initiative has added hundreds of sites over the years, and its veteran supporters like to readily admit to drinking the “JDAI Kool-Aid.” Using an idiom that references the most famous mass-suicide in history is a bit of an odd choice, but on the other hand it does allow YSI to use the Kool-Aid guy as an image for this column. Oh Yeahhhh!

Let’s get this out of the way right now: This is the best location so far for a JDAI Inter-Site, and YSI has been to at least the past five. The Atlanta Hilton has a 1970s look about it, but all the workshops are on one floor, solid fitness room, there’s two bars to schmooze in, and most important: 24-Hour Starbucks. Bang!

Back in our previous life with Youth Today, YSI coined the nickname “Juvenile Woodstock” to describe a massive juvenile justice conference held by the Justice Department.

We are ready for another music analogy. The annual JDAI gathering is sort of like the South by Southwest, the Austin, Texas-based art and technology conference that has grown from a tiny dorkfest in 1987 to one of the most important weeks of the year for the music industry.

JDAI Inter-Site has always been well-attended; with five sites involved in the inaugural year, 1992, 40 people showed up in Greenwich, Conn. But the number has ascended from 500 in very recent memory to 800 this year.

Casey CEO Patrick McCarthy opened the first night reception by harkening attendees back 20 years to the beginning of JDAI, when the country was “in the midst of a get tough movement” that constituted an “attack on the very concept of a juvenile justice system.”

“I believe in the core of my soul,” McCarthy said, that the shift away from that mentality and concurrent declines in detention and incarceration are due “in part” to the work of JDAI participants.

Guess what? That drew applause!

McCarthy also dropped a decent zing in there about emerging research on adolescent brain development and its influence on juvenile reform.

“I’d say it doesn’t take a neuroscientist” to know that young people act differently for a reason, “but it did,” McCarthy quipped.

More significant than the joke was McCarthy’s public nod to the MacArthur Foundation for developing the research around brain development as a precursor to its Models for Change initiative.

It isn’t exactly like the two foundations were ever at odds with each other when it came to juvenile justice. But there has been an austerity in the way they’ve both carried themselves, especially considering the amount of nonprofits and consultants that work with both foundations on juvenile justice.

MacArthur is in legacy mode on the Models for Change work, figuring out how best to make use of the best outputs from the initiative. Casey has begun the dialogue on how to downsize its own role in detention reform after two decades and move its focus on to reducing the use of out-of-home placements as sentences.

Is there perhaps room for collaboration now? Both now have relationships with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; teaming up to leverage OJJDP money might create a real base for, say, boosting the federal commitment to community juvenile justice programs.

Anyway, thought that was worth mentioning.

Not much to report, since this evening was strictly registration and reception. We learned from various Georgian greeters that Atlanta’s nickname is “The City too Busy to Hate,” and that the pollen count is outrageous.

The total pollen count today was 1,386. What does that mean? YSI has no clue. It’s way, way above the pollen count of 5 on April 5, but a fraction of the bee mardi gras that took place on April 11 (count: 8024). We’ll assume the pollen count inside the Atlanta Hilton is zero.

As most attendees were en route, the Illinois House approved a measure that would raise the age of jurisdiction in the state to 18 for most felonies. Great quote from Barbara Flynn Currie, House Majority Leader, who voted for the bill:

“Kids are kids. Their brains really aren’t really grown-up brains,” Currie said. “They don’t have good judgment … so let’s treat them like kids.”

Tomorrow will begin with a State of JDAI address from Bart Lubow, who is to JDAI what Willie Nelson is to South by Southwest. New OJJDP Administrator Bob Listenbee is scheduled to address the conference at noon, but we heard that is off because Listenbee’s travel is restricted by the Sequestration cuts imposed in this year’s federal appropriations.

If that’s a long-term problem for Listenbee, it would be about the most unfunny irony we can recall. It took 1,525 days for the Obama administration to put in a permanent leader at the agency, and now the guy can’t represent the agency anywhere outside metro D.C.?

A few of the first day’s panels that Youth Services Insider hopes to check out:

Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline: YSI has heard the irreverently eloquent Clayton County Judge Steven Teske speak on this subject once or 40 times. This time he is moderating a discussion that include the chief of police in YSI’s home town of Hartford, Conn., and the administrator of Memphis City Schools. Very interested to hear the big-city perspective on this issue.

Doing What Works: Principles of Effective Interventions: Led by Casey’s point man on reducing post-adjudication placements, Nate Balis, the summary promises that this will go beyond the conceptual level of “evidence-based work” and discuss the specifics of actual programs and organizations having an impact with juvenile offenders.

Administrative Response Grids: Sounds boring, right? It is a discussion by some pretty experienced probation leaders about how to structure probation sanctions and incentives in such a way that juveniles are roughly guaranteed of equal treatment.

Ted Rubin, the senior scribe on juvenile justice in America, took a different angle on this recently in Juvenile Justice Update. Rubin contends that a movement is afoot to pre-approve some probation sanctions, so that probation officers do not need to wait for a judge to sign off on every one.

As Rubin describes it, this scheme typically does not include pre-approval for probation officers to order detention or home monitoring.

But where Rubin’s piece brims with optimism about probation officers making better decisions when unburdened from court sign-off all the time, the summary of this panel suggests a healthy skepticism that all probation officers deserve more responsibility.
From the description:

“In many places, whether a youth is detained for a rule violation is as much a function of who their probation officer is as it is a function of the seriousness of their violation or the risk they pose.”

The plainer-English translation of that viewpoint is: Most systems have at least a few crappy probation officers that can jerks to the juveniles on their caseloads.

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by John Kelly, editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1212 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at

1 Comment

  1. The best thing about YSI is the easy transitions from the important to the inane. I love this example:

    “The total pollen count today was 1,386. What does that mean? YSI has no clue. It’s way, way above the pollen count of 5 on April 5, but a fraction of the bee mardi gras that took place on April 11 (count: 8024). We’ll assume the pollen count inside the Atlanta Hilton is zero.”

    Classic YSI

Comments are closed.