Weekly Notes: Famous Advocate Canned in San Fran; First Names Predicting Lives of Crime?; New Leader at JPI; and More


After weeks of speculation that it would happen, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) fired nationally known youth advocate Margaret Brodkin this week from her post as heaf of the Department for Children, Youth and Their Families. Before joining the city government in 2004, Brodkin ran Coleman Advocates for Youth, and was the catalyst for development of the Children's Fund, which sets aside a portion of the city's property tax revenue each year for JJ-related services such as violence prevention and workforce training, as well as child care and educational enrichment.

Rumor is that Newsom told Brodkin right after the elections in November that her time at DCYF was short.

You have to think that at least part of the reason Newsom removed her is because he will probably run for governor, and will definitely have to start looking budget-hawkish if he does. That could mean taking on the set-asides in his own city's budget, like the Children's Fund. And anyone who knows Brodkin knows she wouldn't have stood idly by while that went down.

Then again, others think it's just a reflection of Newsom's poor judgment. "Brodkin was as good as any department head the city has, and she's a national figure," said Dan Macallair, executive director of the San Francisco-based Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice. "And that may have been too much for our mayor's ego."

Regardless of the reason, Newsom has definitely angered the network of youth advocates in the city, for whom Brodkin is clearly the leader. It didn't help that he announced her departure from DCYF in a statement he issued while in Switzerland. 

Interestingly,  Brodkin is staying with the administration. She will lead the New Day Learning Initiative, a Charles S. Mott Foundation-funded project for which the city will be one of two demonstration sites (Providence, R.I., is the other). 


We are not entirely sure what to make of this yet. A couple of researchers at Shippensburg University, David Kalist and Daniel Lee, have concluded that for boys, the relative popularity of a name can dictate criminal behavior.

They compared one state's information on first name popularity (as in, Michael being the most popular and Garland as one of the least popular) and the names of youths adjudicated for crimes. They find a positive correlation between unpopular first names and juvenile delinquency, concluding that "unpopular names may signal an increased propensity to commit crime."

A first thought was, this is going to have some uncomfortable racial component to it. But Kalist and Lee analyzed the correlation for each race separately and it still holds up; white kids with relatively unpopular names were more likely to be adjudicated than their normally-named

That is all well and good. But what is the policy, decision-making implication? Don't name your kid what you want to? Have intervention and outreach programs start giving youths with unusual names priority into programs? Hardly fair to Mike, Charles and Bobby.

Actually, one valid tie is that unpopular names also have been correlated statistically to trouble getting jobs. So for programs that provide reentry services for adjudicated youths or young adults, and can't take all comers, the name thing might be a legitimate criterion.


The Washington,D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute has a new executive director. Tracy Velázquez, who was the senior program associate at the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice's Center on Sentencing and Corrections, will take over for Sheila Bedi, who left after a year at JPI.

Bedi plans to return to her previous passion, justice reform in the southern states. Before joining JPI, she was co-director of the Mississippi Youth Justice Project, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization based in Jackson, which she joined in 2003.

Like Bedi, Velázquez made her name doing regional work. Vera is certainly a national operator, but Velazquez's roots are in Montana, where she was executive director of the Montana Mental Health Association. One of her points of focus there was pushing for a reduction in the criminalization of people with mental illness. Velázquez, who ran for Congress once, was for a time the vice chair of the Montana Democratic Party.

Her work at Vera included a publication entitled The Pursuit of Safety, which examines the impact of sex offense policies on the states. That is right up JPI's alley; the organization recently entreated states to forgo some federal money by not complying with the requirements of the Adam Walsh Act, compliance that JPI argued would cost them more in the end.


An ugly wrong might need righting by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Juvenile Law Center (JLC) has petitioned the court to reassess essentially every juvenile case from 2003 to 2008 in which former juvenile judge Mark Ciavarella presided; there were hundreds. Ciaverella is facing 87 months in federal prison for allegedly taking kickbacks from developer Robert Mericle in exchange for steering juveniles into certain detention centers he built (here is a great timeline on the corruption). Ciavarella, who was the president judge of Luzerne County's juvenile court, has agreed to plead guilty, according to a statement issued by the local U.S. attorney. However, Ciavarella has not yet entered a guilty plea in court. Another judge, Michael Conahan, is also expected to plead guilty.

JLC's petition asks that the court identify all juveniles who went before Ciavarella, review their cases and either adjudicate them properly or expunge their records.


The Oakland, Calif.-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency has been quite prolific in the waning months of its outgoing president, Barry Krisberg, who will retire soon. NCCD released two interesting reads in the last few weeks.

The first was Breaking the Cycle of Abuse in Juvenile Facilities, written to draw attention to the serious problems some systems still have with abuse in juvenile placements. In interviews with youths in California's juvenile justice system, Krisberg found that sexual assault is a significant factor in the culture of "violence and fear" that pervades youth facilities. Gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender youths are especially vulnerable to sexual assault in juvenile facilities. Joining gangs provided some measure of protection from sexual assault, putting youths who are not gang members especially at risk.

Rebuilding the Infrastructure for At-Risk Youth, which will be released next week, provides perspective on the dramatic loss of federal money for certain aspects of juvenile justice. That is a well-known trend to many, of course, but Krisberg lays it out concisely here with some interesting recommendations for OJJDP going forward.

Another good read of late: the National Juvenile Justice Network released this summary of advances in juvenile justice reform around the states.


Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), author of the Youth PROMISE Act , will hold a hearing Feb. 11 about the myths and realities of youth violence, which we hear will address, at least in part, James Alan Fox's recent report on juvenile murder victims and homicide arrests.

Here's a great example of how Fox creates impact with his reports. In this Jan. 23 article about Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's plans to cut juvenile crime, there is the following quote from Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn Ivey: "There are too many people with guns in their hands and gangs in their plans."

Now, here is a direct quote from Fox's report, released Dec. 29:

"It hardly takes a rocket scientist-or a research criminologist-to recognize that there are increasing numbers of wayward and poorly-supervised youngsters with guns in their hands and gangs in their plans."


Speaking of Maryland...

Baltimore, the city that is home to JDAI, perhaps the most successful juvenile justice reform movement ever, continues to struggle with its own young people. The Baltimore Sun reported yesterday on the sixth teenager killed already this year.