Money Madness and Butler Service

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Flores: The attorney general’s butler, and the national juvenile justice field’s maximum minimum leader.

Thank you, Jack Abramoff and your congressional pals who are now scattered throughout the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Prisons. If not for the disgraced lobbyist and his fellow travelers milking and bilking the congressional earmark system, hundreds of millions of dollars in annual set-asides for politically connected groups would not now be available for competitive grant making by federal agencies.

But just how competitive is “competitive”?

Last year, aficionados of federal pork will recall, a temporary outburst of anti-earmark virtue swept through the Democratic ranks of Congress. Put back in charge by the voters in November, the new majority party took the pledge: No more secretive earmarks – at least in this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Needless to say, some of the national youth-serving groups long accustomed to federal largess were apoplectic over the prospect of actually competing for money. Among those snagging noncompetitive earmarks for their national offices and local affiliates, just from the budget of the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), were the Boys & Girls Clubs of America ($4 million, plus another $80 million from another DOJ program); the National Police Athletic League ($1.75 million); the YMCA ($2.95 million); and the National Fatherhood Initiative ($3 million). A surge in solicitations for applications issued by OJJDP and other federal agencies active in the children and youth field had grant writers working in overdrive to meet deadlines, most of them in June or early July.

But not all grant writers are created equal. The juvenile justice field is rife with speculation that 13 groups – including the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Girl Scouts of the USA and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America – actually received what are essentially national staffing grants before OJJDP announced the availability of its fiscal 2007 National Juvenile Justice Program on May 18. That would give everyone else – there are an estimated 119 grant makers seeking national program support – only 17 business days to develop and write a proposal.

Nevertheless, this tilted playing field is a big improvement over last fiscal year’s $106 million in congressional earmarks, which obligated more than 99 percent of OJJDP’s discretionary grant making.

Ten OJJDP solicitations (see chart) generated approximately 974 proposals for what remains unclaimed by the lucky 13. Grant winners will be announced in late September. Many will be past earmark beneficiaries. Some will not, and they can thank Abramoff and Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and David Obey (D-Wis.) for the demise – at least this year – of the malignant earmark malady.

Perhaps no federal agency was more crippled by congressional earmarking than OJJDP, whose fiscal 2007 funding totals $338.7 million. OJJDP’s role in the federal scheme of things has spiraled ever downward since the Bush administration installed J. Robert Flores as administrator in April 2002. If politically eviscerated Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is little more than President George W. Bush’s butler, then Flores is the silent butler to Bush’s amnesiac butler.

Like Gonzales, who heads what conservative columnist Robert Novak calls “a crippled, leaderless Justice Department,” Flores’ tenure had been, on a good day, one of benign neglect. Says Liz Ryan of the liberal Washington-based Campaign 4 Youth Justice, “I don’t look to OJJDP for leadership because there isn’t any.” Another insider, who requested anonymity because his national organization is a party in competitive grant applications to OJJDP, gives Flores more credit for direction: “He’s systematically destroying the agency.” Says one senior civil servant in a Southern state, “He doesn’t care.” Reaching for more diplomatic language, he offers that Flores suffers from “a lack of interest.”

Flores’ best review comes from Pat Arthur, senior attorney for juvenile justice at the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law. For her, Flores’ leadership is only “waning.”

One example of Flores’ sloth – and there are hundreds – is the impact of the 2002 amendments to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) contained in P.L. 107-273. One change defined who is an “adult inmate.” OJJDP interpreted the law to say that a juvenile tried and sentenced as an adult must be separated from other juveniles within six months of reaching the age of majority. (That’s usually 18, but stands at 16 or 17 in 14 states.) At a recent meeting of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Elissa Rumsey, OJJDP’s compliance monitoring coordinator, said “no one knows how it got in the [JJDP] act.” Not even Flores, probably preoccupied patrolling the Internet looking for any would-be child molesters.

That instance of policy drift now threatens to drive from participation in the JJDPA many of the states considered to have among the best youth corrections services. Lana Holman, Oregon’s juvenile justice specialist since 2000, observes that the law and OJJDP’s policies add up to “more and more rules, less and less money.” Oregon’s share of the ever-shrinking State Formula Funds (down from $88.8 million in fiscal 2002 to $79.2 million this year) is $665,000, and Holman says the loss of that money is “not a compelling reason to change” the state’s widely supported policy of permitting young adults who committed crimes as juveniles to remain within the Oregon Youth Authority. That agency’s biannual budget is more than $100 million. With each youth on each day constituting a violation of the separation requirements, Oregon racked up 29,295 violations in a recent three-month period.

In Missouri, often touted as having the nation’s best youth corrections system, Division of Youth Services Director Tim Decker wants the separation requirements changed or his state, like Oregon, might cease participating in the JJDPA. Decker says “it’s not about the money, it’s about the young people” he would have to transfer to adult prisons.

Where is Administrator Flores on this matter? No one knows. What is known is that in October 2003, Deputy Administrator Bill Woodruff wrote the governors of the 55 states and territories participating in the JJDPA to inform them – with delight, one suspects – that the kids go to the adult Big House, or in two years you’re out of the JJDPA. Given that the Bush administration has spent six years asking Congress to zero out the entire juvenile justice program, this poison pill letter, cleverly disguised as a bleeding-heart child safety issue – protecting those who were sentenced as juvenile offenders – might be just the formula to nix the JJDPA. One director of a state criminal justice agency has a different take: With Flores asleep in the pantry, “overzealous” OJJ staffer Rumsey has provoked the crisis.

In its place, the Bush administration and Flores – whose obsession with real or imagined sex offenses makes him America’s equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s chief of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – want to create something called the Child Safety and Juvenile Justice Program when Congress takes up reauthorization of the act in this session.

Nancy Gannon Hornberger

While the Bush administration and Flores have little use for the JJDPA’s core mandates – deinstitutionalization of status offenders; sight and sound separation of juveniles from adult offenders; removal of juveniles from adult jails and lock-ups; and reduction of disproportionate minority contact with the justice system – their view garners scant support in the states. Since its enactment in 1974, the legislation has had a profoundly positive impact on juvenile justice services in most states.

In Alabama, for example, state juvenile justice specialist Donald Lee has just retired after 32 years on the job. He recalls that the entire state once had only two juvenile probation officers, and that in order to save money, the state youth corrections facility had running water only every third day.

Wyoming provides a time warp case study of what juvenile justice services would be like if the JJDPA had never become law. The state has never participated in the program, preferring to pass up its state formula grant income that this year would have totaled a mere $600,000. That’s an easy call for a state whose booming oil and mining industries have produced a budget surplus of $1.8 billion. Instead, according to a series of articles in the Casper Star Tribune written by Associated Press reporter Mead Gruver, Wyoming proudly adheres to the pre-1974 standard practices. Runaways as young as 12 and other status offenders are routinely locked up in adult jails; most juvenile prisoners are not separated from adult inmates; and most juveniles are charged and tried in adult court. In Casper’s Natrona County, 97 percent of juvenile cases are tried in adult court. In this practice, Wyoming leads the nation, according to the Pittsburgh-based National Center for Juvenile Justice. Natrona County District Attorney Mike Bloningen told The Associated Press that the JJDPA was “written by people who never have to face reality.”

Reality is what they’re facing in Texas, a state that participates in the act (getting a formula grant of $4.9 million in fiscal 2006) but pretty much ignores the law’s philosophy and mandates. Recently, a sex and broken bones scandal swept the entire leadership of the Texas Youth Commission out the door. Like Wyoming (home of Vice President Dick Cheney), Texas (home of the other guy) has never bothered to even send workers for training in best practices offered by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ).

That D.C.-based organization is dominated by the gubernatorially-appointed chairs of each state’s juvenile justice advisory group (SAG). Nancy Gannon Hornberger is its able executive director. Founded in 1979, the nonprofit for over two decades received all its funding from OJJDP. The Bush administration found the group’s leaders, most appointed to state office by Republican governors, much too feisty and progressive in their recommendations to OJJDP, the White House and Congress. No executing juveniles, no locking up status offenders in adult jails, that sort of thing.

In 2003, with all its money coming from Uncle Sam and the weak leadership then at the helm, CJJ appeared no match for the knife-wielding butler. Flores set up another group, the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FAC-JJ), to which most governors promptly appointed the same people who were active in the CJJ. While spending about $400,000 on the FAC-JJ, Flores concurrently cut off funding to the CJJ. It was just a matter of time, said prognosticators (including Nose Knows) before CJJ’s demise.

Fortunately, CJJ’s constituency and two national foundations had other plans. Most state advisory groups kept paying dues. This year, some 46 out of a possible 56 states and territories will provide CJJ with more than $110,000. The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will provide more than $500,000 to support its Models for Change initiative and a CJJ affiliated program known as the National Juvenile Justice Network, led by Sarah Bryer. The MacArthur program officer is Laurie Garduque.

The Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation provides another $75,000 for juvenile detention reform. Casey’s program officer is Bart Lubow. This year, CJJ expects to spend up to $1 million promoting juvenile justice reform and persuading a newly interested Congress to improve OJJDP’s performance.

Flores’ inept maneuvers to kill CJJ have yielded only the further marginalization of OJJDP during the upcoming renewal of the office’s enabling legislation. Not that he cares.

What Flores does care about is pornography. Before being nominated to run OJJDP, he was a staff attorney at the anti-porn crusading National Law Center for Children and Families. So while 12-year-old Wyoming runaways sat in jails and Texas drained its youth corrections cesspool, OJJDP issued reports last month called “Use of Computers in the Sexual Exploitation of Children” and “A Family Resource Guide on International Parental Kidnapping.”

If OJJDP dies of abuse and neglect, the culprit will be known: The butler did it.