Bob Shepherd’s Archive Shows a Different Era of Federal Leadership


When you write, testify and speak as much as Bob Shepherd did, you tend to collect a lot of stuff; papers, reports, notes, books. Shepherd, an expert and advocate on juvenile justice who passed away in December, decided not to let his accumulation die with him.

Liz Ryan had no idea what to expect when she drove to the University of Richmond to collect documents Shepherd left her. He had battled cancer for years, but he still served on the advisory council of Ryan's Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Youth Justice for three-and-a-half years.

Would it be boxes, crates, file cabinets full of his papers? An entire library? She thought about taking a van to Richmond just in case it was necessary.

Shepherd ended up mailing his donation to her in one envelope: Four documents and one conference binder, none of them written even in part by Shepherd. Each, except the binder, is less than 100 pages.

But when she sat down to look through them, Ryan realized immediately what Shepherd was communicating to her. She invited JJ Today come by the office and see for ourselves.

The documents, all published in 1980 or 1981, deal with the removal of youths from adult jails and lockups, one of the core requirements that states have to meet to receive all of their Title II formula money from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That requirement became a reality for states about six years earlier, when the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 became law.

At the time of these publications, there was little hard data on how many youths were in adult jails each year. The lowest estimate we could find was 120,000. The highest was around 500,000.

Here's the gist of each publication:

Juvenile Suicide: Authors conducted a survey of jails, lock-ups and juvenile detention centers. The finding: Children in adult jails killed themselves at a rate 10 times higher than juveniles in detention centers.

Removal of Juveniles from Adult Jails and Lock-Ups: A chart explaining where each state was on jail removal as of 1980, findings on the impediments to compliance, and case studies on the states that had already reached compliance.

It's Your Move: The Un-Jailing of Juveniles in America: A 40-page guidebook for local groups on how to push aggressively for jail removal. It lays out the arguments on why jailing youth with adults is a horrible idea, then presents strategies to change the practice. The usual suspects - get good at media outreach, join local commissions and advocacy groups - are alongside recommendations such as: "visit the local jail and see who is there. Monitor the admissions practices and living conditions in the jails and lockups...and report this information to citizen groups, the public, the media."

National Symposium on Children in Jail: A summary of discussions at the symposium, which was held in 1979 to achieve four goals: "provide participants with the latest research about the problem of children in jails; provide information about and access to successful alternatives to the practice of jailing children; develop action programs, plans, and policies for the removal of children from jails; and generate public support for the removal of children from jails."

What's the big deal about this? It's a fair question, because there is certainly no shortage of white papers and reports and studies attached to all of the major JJ issues of the day.

But this is what Ryan thinks Shepherd was trying to drive home:

All four of these documents were produced for, and published by, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

There can be no mistaking the intention of the four, and what OJJDP was expecting when it paid for them to be written. States needed to stop locking up youths, and the relevant federal office was going to lead the charge for local and national advocates who wanted to make that happen now, not later. Shepherd was one of the many people who fought that war alongside OJJDP.

Two ideas allowed into print by OJJDP in the National Symposium summary: police chiefs suing their own jurisdictions to force change on jailing youth and litigation against states. There is also an entire section that rips the Federal Bureau of Prisons for its handling of juveniles.

Youth are still locked up far too often in adult jails, Ryan said. But it is a problem rather than an epidemic. One-day snapshot data shows around 7,500 youth in jails on a given day and, given the turnover in jails, the annual number is probably around 70,000. That's a far cry from the hundreds of thousands discussed at the time of these publications.

But compare the OJJDP of the early ‘80s to the OJJDP of today.

We've reported already on the timeliness (or lack thereof) of many of its publications, but that is only half the story. The vast majority of OJJDP publications that pertain to juvenile justice and the JJDPA requirements are data and analysis, not the sort of advocacy literature Shepherd bequeathed to CFYJ.

It's hard to imagine OJJDP printing something today that rips the Bureau of Prisons, even though BOP still incarcerates juveniles hundreds of miles from their families, a practice it said in 1998 would end by 2008.

Perhaps the most dramatic release in the past decade from OJJDP was its recent report which conceded that transferring youth to adult courts had contributed to an increase in recidivism. Some view it as a crucial piece upon which state advocates can build arguments for less brutal transfer laws.

Yet even that report was fairly tepid, built on existing research and ending without any definitive conclusion. It was the messenger, OJJDP, that made it a big deal.  

To Ryan, a young leader in the JJ advocacy world, Shepherd's lesson to her is clear. The advocacy era of OJJDP "shouldn't be forgotten."

"These documents illustrate the leading role OJJDP played in reform as a catalyst for change. They were promoting more effective approaches," Ryan said.

The four titles Shepherd left Ryan are currently out of print, but she is working with OJJDP to make them available.

Any number of current issues could use the attention OJJDP gave to jailing in the early 1980s. For example, federal leadership on disproportionate minority contact could have a huge impact. Transfer statutes, particularly ones that grant broad discretion to prosecutors, is another issue that OJJDP could help or pressure states to address.

The bulk of notable work on both issues has been done by foundations like Annie E. Casey Foundation, the now-defunct JEHT Foundation, and the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. That is why leaders such as Earl Dunlap, CEO of the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, believe that these grant makers - with far less potential to spend and lead than OJJDP - have become the authorities on juvenile justice.

Shepherd's gift to Ryan said it doesn't have to be that way. 

"I think he was just glad to give them to somebody who can use them," Ryan said. "There is a lot in [the publications] that I did not know, and now we can share this with others."

Campaign for Youth Justice has dedicated its entire library to Shepherd.


  • Benjamin Chambers

    John – nice work on this an your other recent post on OJJDP’s role and the powerful role it should be playing in national juvenile justice policy. You’re right: I’ve only been in the field since 2000, and it’s hard a surprise to learn that OJJDP was every allowed to be such a strong policy advocate. Let’s hope that changes. [For some reason, the first time I posted this comment, it became attached to another post entirely …]

  • Chuck Kehoe

    I had the honor of attending Bob’s Funeral Service and what a tribute it was to a great man. It is no surprise that he would leave these documents and in his own way, challenge us to continue the fight. While we have made progress in some areas, we have not been as successful in bringing about a uniform system of justice for juveniles in the U.S. In his memory we must renew our commitment to kids.