Justice Department Will Host Discussion on Closing Juvenile Prisons

On Friday, a group of juvenile justice advocates will gather in D.C. to promote the closure of large juvenile justice prisons in favor of community-based corrections and small, close-to-home facilities.

YSI-MB-PageThat, in and of itself, is not news. It is hardly the first time such a notion has been advanced at a Beltway advocacy event. Youth Services Insider remembers in particular the 2011 event to honor the 40th anniversary of the year that all of Massachusetts’ juvenile prisons where shuttered without warning.

But Friday’s discussion, entitled “A Community-Based Approach to Juvenile Justice,” will carry the imprimatur of the federal government. It will be hosted by, and include several representatives of, the U.S. Department of Justice.

Among the scheduled speakers at the event:

  • Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason
  • National Institute of Justice Director Nancy Rodriguez
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator Bob Listenbee

At the center of the discussion is “The Future of Youth Justice,” a paper penned by Annie E. Casey Foundation CEO Patrick McCarthy, Casey Associate Director Miriam Shark, and Vincent Schiraldi of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice.

McCarthy, who once ran Delaware’s juvenile justice system, made some waves in the juvenile justice community for a TEDx speech posted in July on YouTube in which he called for closure of all youth prisons. Schiraldi, who has run Washington, D.C.’s juvenile justice system and New York City’s probation system, is a disciple of Jerry Miller, the man responsible for the aforementioned Massachusetts reform.

The paper will be made public on Friday in conjunction with the Justice Department discussion. Youth Services Insider has read an advance copy, and without disclosing the contents, it is not an introduction of new evidence. Rather, it gathers the existing evidence into a coherent argument for closing big facilities and replacing them with systems that rely heavily on community-based programs and small, campus-like facilities.

Friday’s session is being carefully depicted by Justice as a “meaningful and engaging discussion about a community-based approach to juvenile justice,” so this is not an official proclamation that the federal government supports closure of large juvenile justice facilities.

But make no mistake, it is significant that the Justice Department is hosting this. OJJDP’s budget has been eviscerated in recent fiscal years. And where there was once hope of leadership on broad juvenile justice reform by the Obama administration, OJJDP went years without a presidentially appointed leader and then struggled with internal conflict and Congressional anger about its basic monitoring process.

This discussion comes late in Obama’s presidency, too late for the administration to pivot toward any policy proposal based on this paper. But it is the sort of thing juvenile justice advocates have hoped for from OJJDP for eight years.

You can watch the discussion online by registering here.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1135 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.