The Justice Department has told Youth Services Insider that the Office of Justice Programs will reduce the Office of Justice Programs’ workforce by nearly 200 positions by October of 2019, a move that could sap staff from the already-small division focused on federal juvenile justice policy.
The Chronicle of Social Change was told by sources within the Justice Department that the full agency could see thousands of positions eliminated. OJP spokesman James Goodwin told Youth Services Insider that OJP has “been directed by the Department to reduce its workforce by 177 positions from the position ceiling of 711 by the end of Fiscal Year 2019” as part of an effort to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government.
Goodwin said the cuts are “OJP-wide,” and confirmed what YSI heard about the plan in general: that it will be achieved through “hiring freeze, natural attrition and voluntary separation incentives,” the latter of which is government speak for buyouts.
“Given the voluntary nature of the strategy,” Goodwin said, “it is unknown where the reduction within OJP will occur. We will address any imbalances in staffing and workload as they arise.”
News of the looming cuts to OJP staff have been cause of concern for juvenile justice advocates, who are hoping Congress will finally hammer through a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJPDA) this session. JJDPA sets out the federal standards for treatment of youth by juvenile justice systems, and offers states a formula grant in exchange for compliance with those standards.
The act has not been reauthorized since 2002, and has recently been the target of proposed zeroing out in appropriations by the House of Representatives. The Senate has continued to work funds in for JJDPA, and both chambers have passed a bill to update the act.
Efforts to move JJDPA to the desk of President Trump have been stymied by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who opposes the inclusion of a provision about detaining youth who commit status offenses, actions that would not be crimes if the offender was an adult. The House bill would phase out a loophole that permits judges to detain youth for status offenses if the transgression was in violation of a court order.
YSI has heard that the House and Senate leaders on the bill have agreed to drop the provision to gain Cotton’s approval, but there has not yet been movement on the legislation.
It is not entirely clear how staff reductions at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the OJP division that works with states on JJPDA, would impact the division. OJJDP has come under fire for compliance monitoring issues in recent years, so there is some concern that further cutbacks to its staff won’t help things on that front.
“Cuts of this size are alarming, given the amount of work and content expertise necessary to properly administer the duties of the OJJDP office,” said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “It is also inconsistent with the direction of Congress who has authorized higher levels for the program given its imminent reauthorization.”
One current OJP staffer told YSI that the effect could be to essentially shift grant managers at OJJDP into grant monitors – meaning that instead of more intense partnership on the work of grantees (including states receiving JJPDA funds), they would only have the time and capacity to review paperwork.