Juvenile Justice Advocacy: Back From the Doldrums

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Promoting best practice in the juvenile justice field has a long, twisted history, with enough triumph and tragedy to concoct a soap opera titled, “Desperate Advocates.”

Prior to the passage of the federal legislation in 1974 that set up the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the nation’s lockups for teens had all the charm of Abu Ghraib prison.

By 1973, a broad national bipartisan consensus had emerged that a thorough root-and-branch reform was needed. Lead by such groups as the National Council of Jewish Women, the YMCA and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the 1974 law made progressive reform the law of the land. It virtually mandated the removal of status offenders from lockups and the development of a range of community alternatives.

That spawned the proliferation of the youth-serving community based organizations that now dot the country. Advocacy efforts to implement the law got off to a strong start during the Ford and Carter administrations. They peaked with a multi-million dollar “special emphasis” initiative, championed by OJJDP Administrator Ira Schwartz, which funded dozens of state-level, progressive policy-makers and service-provider coalitions to push for more funding and better services for troubled teens.

In 1981, Schwartz and his advocacy orientation were given the heave-ho by the new Reagan administration.

Over the next quarter century, the parochial interests of most national groups drifted towards obtaining congressional earmarks from OJJDP and elsewhere in the federal budget, while national-level policy advocacy withered.

Schwartz, meanwhile, had founded a peripatetic university-based shop, now known as the Center for Research on Youth and Social Policy (CRYSP) at the University of Pennsylvania. In the youth service field, good intentions are about as useful as guidance from a Chinese fortune cookie. But Schwartz’s interest in reviving statewide juvenile justice advocacy found a like-minded partner in Laurie Garduque, program director for research at Chicago’s John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Beginning in 1996 – with a total of $200,000 in grants to Penn’s CRYSP, Northwestern University’s School of Law, Temple University and the Youth Law Center – the foundation began investing in three areas of juvenile justice reform: focusing on better services in Chicago, researching evidence-based best practices and resuscitating state efforts to encourage what the always diplomatic Garduque calls “a more balanced approach.”

Through the Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, chaired by Laurence Steinberg at Temple University (where Schwartz, coincidentally, is now provost), the foundation has invested $11.2 million in research and policy advocacy. The astute MacArthur effort offers a best practice case study in philanthropic grant making on the virtues of longevity and focus, without being over-prescriptive. Schwartz argued for an effort by MacArthur that would be “not just for advocates” but would draw on more established groups, such as the Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs and others with a less direct stake in juvenile justice reform.

With funding from MacArthur beginning in 1998, Schwartz turned to Tom McKenna, who had recently retired as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA). McKenna is much admired for his personal dedication to the youth service field as a whole, not just that of his own employer. He set up shop at Penn and began to laboriously organize what would eventually become the National Network of Statewide Juvenile Justice Advocates. At first, the goal was to strengthen groups in Delaware, Florida, Michigan and Arizona. The early results in building and/or strengthening statewide collaborations were mixed. Florida proved especially difficult and was dropped, while Pennsylvania was added.

The initial effort was modeled on a state-level version of the National Collaboration for Youth, part of what is now the National Human Services Assembly, in which McKenna had been active during his 14-year tenure at BBBSA.

McKenna’s work was evaluated by Penn Professor Burt Cohen. Discovering the obvious, Cohen wrote in his 2003 report that he had “one surprise . . . there was much less representation of traditional youth-serving agencies (e.g., YMCA, Salvation Army) than had originally been anticipated.” Other funders take note that the evaluation also found “that starting an advocacy collaboration clearly requires some targeted resources, but not an inordinate amount.”

Building on earlier national work by the Youth Law Center’s Building Blocks for Youth Project, run by Liz Ryan, McKenna tied together some of the most forceful and dedicated state-based advocates. Experienced groups such as the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, run by Ferdinand Muniz, the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force, run by Bill Glick, and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, run by David Utter, immediately raised the sophistication of the entire network.

As the organizing work by McKenna, in collaboration with Katz’s National Assembly, progressed, MacArthur’s Garduque could not have been more pleased. The task of “reframing issues in juvenile justice” was making steady progress. “Of course,” she notes, “it helps that juvenile crime has fallen.” McKenna’s network has grown from five states to 28 states in seven years. McKenna and Garduque are keen to point out that other foundations have played important roles – especially the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where Bart Lebow directs juvenile justice work. Also pitching in are two New York City foundations, the Open Society Institute and the JEHT Foundation. Foundations with a limited geographic focus have also helped, such as the Tow Foundation in Connecticut and The California Wellness Foundation.

As the network grew, several key organizational development issues needed resolution. Penn was from the start a temporary Philadelphia home, and McKenna was a convening figure, not a permanent staffer. Discussions of this nature can be agonizing because of uncertainty about just who is going to pay for a new home and staff. But with MacArthur funding all but certain, two Washington, D.C.-based suitable suitors stepped forward.

One was Voices for America’s Children (formerly the National Association of Child Advocates), run by Tamara Copeland. The other suitor was the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ). The coalition is made up of chairs and other members of the state Juvenile Justice Advisory groups set up under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Compared to Voices (as the group is known), CJJ offered McKenna and company an agency that was single-mindedly focused, for better or worse, on juvenile justice. But it also has an executive director in David Doi who is even more timid than Copeland.

The National Network of Statewide Juvenile Justice Advocates gave the high sign to CJJ, wherein the network will maintain a separate structure and hire a staff person.

In December, MacArthur came through with a $400,000 grant over two years for CJJ and its new partner. Last year MacArthur funded 27 groups to work on juvenile justice, a quarter of them in Illinois. This year the foundation will spend $6.5 million on such efforts.

Since 1984, OJJDP has funded CJJ to provide training and technical assistance and to make policy recommendations to the White House and Congress. Those reports, while hardly influential, were more than the Justice Department under anal-retentive Attorney General John Ashcroft could abide.

Doi and CJJ faced a version of hanging judge syndrome in 2002, when OJJDP administrators used the newly amended Anti-Lobbying Act, and declared that no OJJDP grantee could also advise and lobby the White House and Congress. OJJDP administrator Robert Flores cut CJJ’s funding from $669,375 in 2002 to $344,000 in 2003, and set up a duplicative (but equally independent-minded) Federal Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee.

That cut of half its budget put CJJ into what could easily have been a death spiral, eliminating the last even quasi-independent group that keeps a close eye on national juvenile justice policy and spending. But dismay about the performance of Flores and antipathy toward deputy OJJDP Deputy Administrator Bill Woodruff, combined with the Bush administration’s relentless budget cutbacks, sparked a rally by supporters to CJJ’s cause. In November 2003, the state advisory groups agreed to more than double each state’s dues to CJJ from $2,000 to $5,000. Today, 41 states and territories (along with Washington, D.C.) are CJJ dues payers, while the Annie E. Casey Foundation is in its fourth year of a year-to-year $100,000 grant to CJJ. Now those years of work by McKenna are bearing dividends for CJJ.

Says Doi in a decidedly untimid fashion, “Our budgetary health is very, very good.” He cites the CJJ 2005 budget projection of $970,000 as his exhibit A, up from this year’s $725,000.

“In 2002, 80 percent to 85 percent of our budget came from the federal government,” he says. “This year, federal funding was 45 percent and we have more money. We’re doing well because of the support of our members and the broader support of national JJ leaders like Mark Soler [Youth Law Center], Patty Puritz [National Juvenile Defender Center, part of the American Bar Association] and Shay Bilchik,” president of the Child Welfare League of America.

Will the new partnership between CJJ and the National Network of Statewide Juvenile Justice Advocates be just the tonic the field needs? One veteran advocate involved with both groups is Beth Arnovits, the executive director since 1979 of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. She characterizes the health of juvenile justice reform as “depressed.” For advocates, says Arnovits, “The problem continues to be getting anyone who will fund” aggressive campaigns in the states on behalf of teens in the juvenile justice system. If there were more risk-taking philanthropies with staying power – like MacArthur, Tow and the California Wellness Foundation – the prognosis for ongoing reform would be excellent.

As for McKenna’s wagon, now hitched to CJJ, the road ahead is uncertain. For the sake of the over 104,413 juveniles in residential placement (in 2001) and the over 2.26 million arrested each year (in 2002), and for the paying-through-the-nose taxpayer, success is vital.

Contact: CJJ (202) 467-0864, info@juvjustice.org;MacArthur Foundation (312) 726-8000, www.macfound.org.

Another Bush ‘Crisis’ Solved

Hail to the Chief! According to the White House, the alleged systematic discrimination against religiously affiliated federal grant-seekers is over.

The White House, ever so insistent on evidence-based results for domestic federal spending programs, recently released a list of $1.17 billion in 2003 grants to “faith-based organizations.” The list came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Associated Press (AP). Compiled, it is hoped, by an intern on a 40-day fast at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and not by its director, Jim Towey, the list reads with the veracity of a script for Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Here are some of the groups that, reports the AP, the White House “believed to be faith-based.”

• Temple University in Philadelphia, once Baptist-affiliated but since 1965 a state-related university apparently mistaken by the White House for a yeshiva.

• The City of St. Louis, named in 1765 for King Louis IX of France, who died while on a crusade in North Africa. Now St. Louis has a miraculous leg up in federal grantsmanship over Kansas City, lamentably named after the heathen Kansa Indians.

• The Milwaukee Boys & Girls Clubs, one of 1,200 administrative units of the national organization and long a favored recipient of federal largess. Dozens of B&GCA affiliates have direct federal grants. Yes, Milwaukee is the only one to make the White House list. Something must be a-brewin’ in Milwaukee.

•The Pima Prevention Partnership in Tucson, funded by the White House Drug-Free Communities Program, has no religious affiliation like almost all of the other 713 grantees in the national program run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

• J Bar J Inc., in Bend, Ore., a multi-service agency for troubled teens with no religious affiliation.

• The Department of Human Services of San Francisco, named for St. Francis, who, among other feats, conversed with birds. In reality, this list is a compilation of almost randomly selected grants – some competitive, some that only units of government can apply for, some congressional earmarks – and some, in HHS’ Compassion Capitol Fund. Funding for that fund is $55 million this year. The political fix is in for most of the fund’s larger grantees. One example is a $500,000 grant to Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing in Virginia Beach, Va.

Over half the total in faith-based grants claimed by the White House went to two programs, reports the AP – the 46-year-old Section 202 low-income housing program for the elderly at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Head Start. Both programs have been since their inception, and will always be, happily reliant on faith-based organizations as service providers. Sarah Greene, CEO of the National Head Start Association, scoffs at Head Start’s inclusion. She notes that more than 100 churches have sponsored programs since Head Start’s founding in 1965.

Apparently, some affiliates of national groups are more faithful than others. For example, 38 YMCAs with federal grants make the list, while other YMCAs do not. The White House says the grant of $150,000 to the YMCA of Anaheim, Calif., for a physical education program is faith-based. That’s news to John Guastaferro, communications director for that YMCA. “There hasn’t been a specific faith-based grant we’ve received funding for,” he says.

Also, 25 YWCAs make the list despite the national organization’s root-to-branches secularization. No one would dispute that Volunteers of America is a faith-based group, and it landed on the White House list 76 times – but for the kind of work that Voices has undertaken with federal funds since the mid-1960s.

The White House says this impressive total is just for grants awarded in 2003. But among those included is Faith Walk (run by Yolanda Mitchell), whose transitional living grant from HHS’ Family and Youth Services Bureau was yanked in 2004. In addition, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Drug-Free Communities Support Program gave the stumbling Faith Walk $100,000 for its “Dallas County Partnership Against Drugs” program – also on the list. Faith Walk’s inclusion illustrates that no level of performance is too low to disqualify it from earning White House bragging rights.

Critics have long attacked federal abstinence-only programs in part because of their use of government funds to proselytize captive public school students to refrain, on religious grounds, from sexual activity. The Bush administration has vigorously denied those charges. But those programs are on the White House “faith-based” list. For example, the “Let’s Talk” abstinence program in Anchorage, Alaska, received $281,149 to talk about sex and faith.

Mike Jones, CEO of the Idaho Youth Ranch, offered this assessment of his state’s alleged faith-based grantees: “To my knowledge, they’re all fine organizations, but they’re not faith-based, with the possible exception of one.” That would be the Nampa (Idaho) Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Coalition, which received a $554,400 from HHS.

Hounded in Phoenix Another faith-based grantee that made the list released by the White House in January is Phoenix-based MentorKids USA, formerly known as MatchPoint of Arizona. In 2003 the group received a $225,000 three-year grant, from HHS’ Family and Youth Services Bureau, to aid children of prisoners. The grant was set to expire in 2006.

The group requires its staff and volunteer mentors to hold the “belief that the Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired word that is without error in all its teachings including creation, history, its origins and salvation.” Executive Director Daryl Reese is unapologetic about MentorKids USA’s quest for federal funds, noting, “We were very open in our application to HHS” about its beliefs. In its first year, says Reese, the grant was used for staff time in recruiting mentors, allowing them to serve 36 more 8-to-14-year-old kids.

In November, the 8-year-old group, with a modestly paid staff of nine and a budget of $600,000, was dragged into a lawsuit by the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation against Jim Towey’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

In December, HHS terminated the grant, saying the funds were directly paying for religious instruction. Reese disputes that any federal funds were used for religious purposes. While HHS requested a “corrective action plan,” says Reese, MentorKids USA “will not compromise who we are as an organization.” The group’s appeal to U.S. District Court Judge John Shabaz was rejected, and he ordered that no other federal grants be given to the group.

MentorKids USA’s lawyer is Gary McCaleb of the Scottsdale, Ariz.- based Alliance Defense Fund. He told the Arizona Republic, “We are a little bit tired of being hounded by the far left.”