Live from NPJS: Day Four of Juvenile Justice Conference Week

Greetings from the Iron City! As Youth Services Insider and other attendees of the National Partnership for Juvenile Services Symposium head out of town, Steelers and Ravens fans are pouring in for tonight’s game.

Click here for a recap of yesterday’s action. A smattering of additional thoughts as we wrap up Juvenile Justice Conference Week…

NPJS Hanging On

Two years ago, as its members gathered in Louisville, NPJS was riding high on the strength of membership support, foundation grants and three years of funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to lead the National Center for Youth in Custody.

Last year, the board and leadership gathered in Greensboro just months after having the figurative wind knocked out of the NPJS sail. OJJDP, after a year of funding, informed Executive Director Carol Cramer Brooks over email that the grant would be cut two years short.

The National Center for Youth in Custody, what Cramer Brooks described as a “significant portion of our revenue,” would be scuttled, leaving a gaping hole in NPJS finances. This week we had a chance to chat with the partnership’s longest tenured leader, Mike Jones, about how the organization is doing.

The plan was to regroup around what Jones called a “co-op idea,” where states and counties could independently work with NPJS on various professionalization efforts. Some early takers on this include Tennessee, which tapped NPJS to do credentialing of its juvenile justice workers, and Pennsylvania, which brought the partnership in to do “train the trainer” sessions.

Jones said so far, the small NPJS staff has remained intact, albeit at reduced wages. All NPJS employees are paid on a consultant basis, based on a set number of days. Suffice to say, Jones told us, that number of days is lower than the real amount of time put in.

Casey/NPJS Rift?

Years ago, during the Bush administration, NPJS founder Earl Dunlap told YSI that OJJDP had lost its position at the top of the juvenile justice field. If any person could be viewed as the national leader on juvenile justice, he said, it was JDAI creator Bart Lubow.

That conversation echoed in our head this week as it became clear to YSI that Casey CEO Patrick McCarthy’s call to close all youth prisons has angered the leadership and ranks at NPJS. McCarthy, who once ran Delaware’s juvenile justice agency, made the case for this in a TEDx speech posted in July on YouTube.

Now, we hear that Cramer Brooks, herself a former JDAI consultant, is preparing a response to the TEDx speech.

“It’s frustrating to hear those messages,” Jones said. “We’re not at all opposed to JDAI. But not all juvenile corrections facilities are bad.”

There is a sense among those at the partnership that OJJDP has attached itself at the hip to Casey and JDAI, meet regularly with JDAI leadership, and that none of them have any interest in what’s going on in juvenile facilities.

We’re going to go ahead and assume that YSI was the only person to hit both the NPJS symposium and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s JDAI Conference this week. Our take is that the chasm between the two groups is based on rhetoric that might cloud the fact that the two groups mostly agree on things.

Yes, McCarthy went live with a fairly non-specific condemnation of youth prisons. It has been watched on YouTube by fewer than 3,000 people so it’s not exactly “trending” as the kids say.

But as we wrote earlier this week, the JDAI conference agenda this year reflected at the very least an acceptance that lockup is a part of the existing spectrum. YSI attended one workshop solely devoted to discussing Virginia’s construction of a length-of-stay grid for juvenile incarceration, a reform that its Department of Juvenile Justice undertook with Casey’s help.

Also worth noting is the fact that Casey built JDAI around eight core strategies. One of them is “conditions of confinement.”

The juvenile justice field at large is better off if the main driver of deincarceration has a healthy respect for the entity most interested in improving the conditions of incarceration, and vice versa.

The two entities are actually partners on the Journal of Applied Juvenile Justice Services, a really great annual online product that NPJS produces and Casey funds.

Juvenile Transfers: Will We Ever Know?

As mentioned in a separate post today, we heard in the NPJS hallways that data collection for the long-planned federal study on juvenile transfers is finally moving forward. But there’s a problem: states are either refusing to or are struggling to comply with the request for information.

It has been five years since the funding was announced for this study, and it seems like the prospects are dim for it to produce a rich set of answers on transfer practices. That is a huge disappointment because there is probably no bigger blind spot in information about system-involved youth.

It seems like a step was missed on the way here. The Justice Department presumably funded the study under the assumption that answers were attainable but not currently aggregated, but that’s clearly not the case. States really lack the information necessary to match a juvenile’s name to a person in the court records.

Perhaps a pilot court-university partnership or two is in order to see how best to build a way to track transfers? It starts with some official word from Justice Department leadership that doing so is important to them.

That’s all she wrote! Youth Services Insider, signing off. Now where is the Megabus station in this city…

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