Two weeks ago, we reported that Lindsay Hayes, the author of a study on suicide in juvenile facilities, felt OJJDP had buried his work. We sought OJJDP's reaction to that assertion from Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski. In an e-mail on Feb. 10 requesting the interview with Slowikowski, we posed four specific points we wanted to discuss:
1) Why was the suicide report released yesterday held at OJJDP since 2004?
2) Why was the study abruptly not approved in December after being set for publication?
3) Was it Bob Flores' call to hold and then cancel approval for release of the study?
4) Why did Slowikowski decide to publish it once he became acting administrator?
Last week, OJJDP Spokeswoman Kara McCarthy told us that Flores had signed off on publishing the report; Slowikowski is the name on the report because it was issued after he took over, she said.
That still left the larger question. What was the holdup?
This is the response that came back yesterday, via McCarthy:
"It went through the review process and it was published, it just took longer than should be expected. But the people who were involved in it are not here anymore. So I can't find anything as to exactly why it was held up."
McCarthy is by far the most helpful press person we have dealt with at OJJDP going back to 2002. (True story: one of her predecessors once chastised us for not assuming that all conversations with her were off the record unless advised otherwise.) Anyway, we don't doubt that McCarthy did try to figure this out.
But, "it just took longer than should be expected" is pretty tough to defend as an explanation. For starters, you have a study author whom you paid to produce this work who was contacting the agency regularly for updates on publication of the study. If it had passed review and was published, wouldn't his complaints have been enough to make it public?
Also, why would any of this have been a problem if Flores signed off on publication?
Slow release of reports has become the norm at OJJDP, and it's bad enough when that means basic data on arrests and placement trends become outdated before they are even released.
This was a study with several provocative findings and at least one major implication: States had no clue about a number of suicides that happened at private facilities they paid to house juvenile offenders.
And you say the reason it didn't get out was just that it just took longer than should be expected?
Unfortunately, that's about what we have come to expect from OJJDP.