Notes from Federal JJ Advisory Group Meeting in Washington

It has been quite awhile since Youth Services Insider (YSI) set foot in the third floor conference room of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs building in Chinatown, the secular cathedral of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

It’s a strange little space, set below the third floor hallway, with just enough space to seat a roundtable meeting and comfortably accommodate about 50 public spectators. Rarely more than ten show up.

YSI made its triumphant return for the second in-person meeting of the newly constituted Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice  (FACJJ), a body tasked with advising the president and OJJDP on issues related to juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.

FACJJ used to be comprised of members from each of the 50 state advisory groups (SAG), and met quarterly in an effort to develop an annual report to the president and OJJDP.

The agency put that model out to pasture in December of 2011, opting for a cheaper and smaller core FACJJ that would consist of regional SAG representatives, alternates, and subcommittees that could include experts and practitioners as needed. The group met for the first time at OJJDP’s national conference last year, whichYSI dubbed Juvenile Woodstock, and it has met via web conference two times since.

The upside of this new arrangement is supposed to be that a leaner FACJJ could provide quick input to OJJDP on things as they come up, and we did see this put in motion during last week’s meeting. Officials asked the commission to read and give feedback on a yet-to-be-released OJJDP document about juvenile justice agencies and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Following are some notes we gleaned from the meeting:

New-look OJJDP?

A reorganization of OJJDP appears to be very close, which is to say some lawyers need to bless it above the OJP level before it becomes official.

Over the summer,we kept hearing the same word associated with reorganization: buckets, meaning staff would be aligned to work on one specific aspect of OJJDP.

Acting Deputy Administrator for Policy Jeff Slowikowski gave YSI some idea of what that meant during a break at the meeting, explaining that one of the biggest changes will be creating separate units for state relations/assistance and compliance monitoring.

As it is, Slowikowski explained, the same person who serves as a state’s OJJDP liaison all year is the same person monitoring its compliance. So now, apparently, there will be a bucket of help and a bucket of monitoring for states.

This reorganization will come to be just months after the agency lost significant stature with one signature off the pen of President Barack Obama. The president in August signed the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, a bipartisan piece of legislation that stripped Senate confirmation requirements from scores of appointments that heretofore had required Senate blessing.

Among the jobs stripped of confirmation status by the bill: Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

What does it mean? For starters, it will be easier for a president to get someone into OJJDP. The confirmation process takes months for jobs at that level of government, and can be derailed or cause good candidates to grow weary of the process. Without Senate confirmation, it is a virtual certainty that the Obama administration would have had an administrator in place soon after the Senate confirmed former OJP boss Laurie Robinson.

That perhaps would have been an upside for the juvenile justice community with this administration, which advocates hoped would lead a significant charge on reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and other juvenile justice-related issues.

But the same direct appointment ability might become a downside if some future president/attorney general resurrects some overly punitive philosophy on juvenile justice, or simply wants to gut bureaucracy and sees the agency as expendable. It would be very easy for such a president to put a hatchet man in the agency under the new order of things.

A New Fiscal Reality

Overall funding for the agency has dropped from 41 percent since 2009, from $461.5 million to $277 million in 2012. Its juvenile justice-specific funding to the states dropped from $130 million in fiscal 2009 to $70 million in 2012, and the likelihood is that it will be level or lower in 2013.

“We are not likely to see the appropriations of the last era again,” said Nancy Gannon-Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition on Juvenile Justice.

OJJDP leadership seems to embrace the agency’s new reality with almost indignation to its past. Hanes, addressing the FACJJ on Thursday morning, touted the agency’s role as a leader on research, dissemination and philanthropic leverage. No longer, she told the FACJJ, is OJJDP “just an ATM machine.”

State agencies still tasked with complying with federal standards might like a bit more withdrawal capability, but it is probably the right attitude to take if you’re heading the agency at the moment.

Emerging Focal Points

Here is a list of a few things OJJDP is running point on:

Defending Childhood: Attorney General Eric Holder came to the Justice Department with three youth-related issues in mind: legal representation in juvenile proceedings, community violence prevention, and the interplay between childhood trauma and delinquency.

The administration includes a request for $25 million for a community-based violence prevention fund in its budget request every year, and the past three years it has received between $8 million and $10 million. OJJDP has used foundation support from Target and the Skillman Foundation to fund a National Forum on Youth Violence, a technical assistance venture that has worked with six cities and is set to include four more this year.

Improving public defense for juvenile offenders is a plank on the platform of Access to Justice, a pet project of Holder managed outside of OJJDP. Aside from a national conference on indigent defense two years ago, little has come from the office.

When a FACJJ member asked about it, OJJDP’s coordinator of federal efforts Robin Delaney-Shabazz offered that it was elsewhere at DOJ and “they still have staff there.”

Huzzah!

Holder’s interest in childhood trauma – borne of experiencing or witnessing violence and abuse – begat the Defending Childhood project. OJJDP has managed the project, which has put about $17 million in play over the past three years to both research the impact of trauma on juvenile behavior and develop pilot projects that work with trauma-inflicted offenders.

A similar interest in the consequences of childhood trauma was expressed this month at the national conference of the Alliance for Children and Families, an organization that represents 360 private providers in the child welfare, juvenile justice and family services fields. A pre-conference session focused entirely on discussing Center on Disease Control and Prevention research on childhood trauma and adult outcomes, and how to put that research into programming (click here for our roundup of that conference).

Expect the recommendations of OJJDP’s Defending Childhood Task Force to be out sometime in December, probably timed up to be released at the quarterly meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention. Depending on the outcome of the election, the recommendations might be the last official offering of the Obama OJJDP.

-Foundation partnerships: OJJDP has scraped together some federal support in the past two fiscal years to help expand upon two of the big three foundation-led juvenile justice reforms: the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Models for Change Initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

JDAI supports the efforts of states to lower reliance on pre-adjudication detention, although Casey has recently begun to expand the scope to include reform of post-adjudication practices. Models for Change, now in its waning stage, sought to build macro-level reform efforts in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Illinois and Washington, and then build more targeted reform efforts in a handful of other states.

OJJDP has worked with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration in previous fiscal cycles to support the other foundation-led reform brand, Reclaiming Futures, an effort by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to grow and improve the field of juvenile drug courts.

Beware Evidence-Based Fever

Gannon-Hornberger, in her presentation, expressed a concern that over-reliance on evidence-based practice by OJJDP and other key juvenile justice funders would “edge out” innovation in the field. There is good work being done to highlight proven juvenile justice interventions, she argued, but there not enough of them out there to stop supporting new ideas.

YSI couldn’t help but think that Congress has to shoulder some blame for the dearth of an evidence base when it comes to juvenile justice.

The 1992 reauthorization of the JJPDA added a Part E to the law that “permits the administrator to award grants for developing, testing, and demonstrating new initiatives and programs for the prevention, control or reduction of juvenile delinquency.”

But starting in the early 2000s, Congress used Part E appropriations as an earmark trough for more than a decade, steering 99 percent of the funds to youth programs of their choosing.

Did the earmarks go to “bad” programs? Certainly not in most cases. But earmarks were simply managed and monitored by OJJDP staff. Once earmarking took hold with that pot of money, it was never again a source for coherent tests of strategy or practice that could have yielded a base of evidence.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

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