Weekly Notes-Nov. 14


JJ Today will start using Friday to update readers on media coverage and other interesting juvenile justice news from the week. Here are a few things that caught our eye of late:

*** Interesting after-care idea from the State of Ohio, which will contract with a local nonprofit to assign a person, akin to a foster care caseworker, to youths committed to the Department of Youth Services (DYS). The goal is have a rep from the organization - Urban Minority Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Outreach Programs, which has 12 programs operating in 11 Ohio towns and cities - make contract with a family 30 days before a child is released from DYS.

DYS Director Tom Stickrath says it's the first project of its kind; that would take a lot of legwork to verify. But consider what can be done for a returning offender in 30 days: plans for a return to school, reconnecting to SCHIP or Medicaid, signing up for anything the court orders after incarceration. A youth worker could make an enormous difference for a youth by doing that job well

The best part is that Ohio will fund almost the whole thing with $1 million in federal TANF money passed through the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. (Guess that office has come a long way.) So the precedent is there: You can use federal dollars to do this. 

Meanwhile, the closure of one Ohio JJ facility foretells a massive transformation in the way its largest county handles offenders.

*** We have a feeling this won't be the last time this kind of story comes to our attention in the near future: The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is making employees take unpaid leave by June 30 because of cuts in both its state and federal funding.

DJJ Director Bill Byars is well respected by state advocates and is one of the longest-tenured directors in the nation (which is sad, because he's only been there since 2003). DJJ's gamble is that the forced leave will save it from cutting 35 jobs.

*** Lots of people are following the horrendous shooting in Arizona of a father by his 8-year-old son. The case is as fascinating as it is tragic: Early reports are that the boy carefully planned the shooting of his father and his father's friend, despite reports that the boy and his dad were very close and that no abuse had occurred. Slate ran a short piece on police interrogation of really young children.

FYI: If you come across this story from American Chronicle report, which says an anonymous group of prosecutors from other states are urging Arizona to seek the death penalty for the 8-year-old, don't freak out: It's fiction.

The writer, lawyer Geoffrey Mousseau, told us his piece of satire is meant to point out the absurdity of three things: journalists using anonymous sources (guilty!), undying faith in the value of punishment, and the fact that we need a ban on the juvenile death penalty to keep people from wanting to execute children.

*** The debate over a new juvenile hall for two California counties epitomizes the struggle that some in the state are having under the new world order presented by Senate Bill 81. Enacted in 2007, the bill cut off the ability of counties to place most juveniles in the state's much-maligned training schools. The change came with money for services and construction on the local level, but that was before the economy tanked and the state ran into an enormous budget deficit.

*** Here's a great idea that could easily be duplicated anywhere. With the holidays approaching, a group of juvenile justice agencies and advocates are doing a gift-giving event to benefit incarcerated youth in Washington, D.C. The goal is to get gift packages together for about 210 youth, says Eric Solomon of Campaign for Youth Justice, one of the event's sponsors.

Being locked up away from family during the holiday season is exactly the sort of thing that can worsen depression for a juvenile offender, particularly those who do not get regular visitors.

*** Welcome to the extremely tiny field of juvenile justice blogging, Reclaiming Futures Every Day. The primary focus will be covering its namesake, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation venture to improve the handling of youth with substance abuse problems who enter the juvenile justice system. But it will also report on other news in the juvenile justice field, especially substance abuse matters. The foundation already linked readers to this guide on substance abuse programs that we would never have found.

Ben Chambers, who ran the Reclaiming Futures project in Portland, Ore., is the main scribe for the blog. One thing we liked right off the bat was his commitment to not simply cheerlead for the initiative. "We plan to share success stories and challenges from Reclaiming Futures sites across the country," Chambers wrote in one of his first entries.

  • Benjamin Chambers

    Thanks for the nod for the Reclaiming Futures blog, John. But I really wanted to applaud Ohio’s commitment of resources to provide aftercare for youth returning home after being committed to the state. That’s the direction we should all be headed in. (I don’t think it’s the first program of its kind, however; the Oregon Youth Authority has (or had) a program specifically designed to provide aftercare planning for youth of color returning home from lockup. And the Intensive Aftercare Program (http://www.csus.edu/ssis/cdcps/iap.htm) tested and promoted by OJJDP certainly paved the way. I know this in part because one of its creators, David Altschuler, has been an important advisor to Reclaiming Futures.)