Weekly Notes: Great Piece by JPI; Tribal Program Money Available; Luzerne Developments; and more


***It isn't completely focused on juvenile offenders, but the piece on crime and Baltimore put out by the Justice Policy Institute this week should be read by one and all. Bearing Witness is probably one of the better advocacy presentations JJ Today has come across in some time.

The project was funded by Open Society Institute-Baltimore and led by Shakti Belway, who worked with former JPI boss Sheila Bedi on Mississippi juvenile reform before collaborating with her on projects at JPI. They spent a year researching crime in Baltimore and interviewing scores of citizens with different perspectives: teens who lost friends to gunplay; drug addicts, some saved by treatment and others doomed by lockup; doctors seeking to intervene in the lives of young criminals; and more.

Bearing Witness is almost a documentary in page form. Belway relates the words of her interviewees directly, so it is not her voice or opinion that the reader encounters. The report includes sections that use statistics to support the points made by interviewees, along with a handful of recommendations by JPI.

The point that comes across is this: Baltimore has a common sense problem when it comes to crime policy.

Drug users are arbitrarily locked behind bars or given an opportunity for treatment, even though the evidence is clear that the city's treatment efforts work cheaper and better. The rules of probation and parole are nearly impossible to meet. After reading the narratives of people on probation and parole, you can't help but wonder if the only way to make it through without a technical violation is to have a lazy probation officer.

The report does not dwell only on the negative. Passages written by members of the Youth Ambassadors, a group of youths who mobilize community efforts to support opportunities for youth, are among the bright spots.

The need for research, standard data and analysis is vital to the JJ field. But a piece like this, which combines the numbers with the reality behind them, has a real chance to make an impact on people's minds. JJ Today hopes to post a Q&A next week with Belway on the nuts and bolts of the project; perhaps other communities might be able to produce similar works.

***Scott Peterson, who cultivated the youth court model while serving as a federal program manager at the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), reports that the recent training on implementing new youth courts was a success. The courts serve as an alternative to customary juvenile justice and school disciplinary processes by using restorative justice and civic responsibility approaches.

Peterson is now the director of criminal justice programs and policy at YouthBuild USA, but essentially took the youth court program with him when he left OJJDP and runs it by himself as a labor of love. The training was held by Peterson's side project, Global Issues, and co-hosted by the Ohio Resource Network and the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution

"It was a big group for those wanting to establish new youth courts on a local level across America - more than 50 communities," Peterson told JJ Today in an e-mail. "Just awesome people."

A website promoting international efforts to establish youth courts will be up an running in September. For a monthly news update, send an e-mail to TheMonthlyNews@GlobalYouthJustice.org and type "subscribe" in the subject line.

***The 2009 Tribal Youth Program solicitation was issued by OJJDP this week. Grants of up to $450,000 over four years are available to any tribe that does not have an active TYP grant. Nonprofits and other youth work programs are not eligible to apply directly, but tribes are free to subgrant the dollars to them for services.

Deadline is May 28.

***Two developments of note in the wake of the Luzerne County judges scandal:

First, the inevitable call for reform of the state laws has occurred. Among the recommendations, which are spread out over a handful of bills that might be introduced: Allowing media in the courtroom, mandating that each juvenile have a lawyer, and providing special services for youths who were inappropriately detained by Luzerne County under former judge Mark Ciavarella.

Second, as expected by the Juvenile Law Center, Ciavarella filed a motion to dismiss the class-action lawsuit filed against him and other defendants on behalf of juveniles who appeared before him after 2003.

We can't help but wonder about one hole in the premise of the lawsuit. Can't Ciavarella basically contend, "Whether you like it or not, I detained and placed lots of kids well before I had a financial incentive to do so"? Wouldn't that negate the notion that his use of the detention was quid pro quo?

"That's not how I read the law," says Lourdes Rosado, one of the JLC lawyers handling the case. "I don't think there's much weight to that argument, honestly. [Youths] were denied the right to an impartial tribunal."

She's probably right (she's a lot smarter than us). And even though Ciavarella already had the track record in inappropriate placements before 2002, his most egregious years from a placement/detention perspective came after PA Child Care, the private facility, started taking in kids.

By the way, a thought we didn't include in our extensive coverage of the judges thus far: JLC's role here should remind the center's peers in advocacy around the country to stay grounded. Even if its petition to have the judge's cases reviewed did not succeed without the help of federal charges, JLC is the primary reason that juveniles who were improperly dealt with by Ciavarella will get some relief in this situation.

The lesson might be this: If you don't already keep a small group of clients as part of your work, it might be something to consider. If you don't have lawyers on staff like JLC does, maybe forge some pro bono relationships. Without that connection to the day-to-day of the process in Pennsylvania, it's not likely that JLC would have gotten active in the Luzerne case.

***D.C. juvenile justice boss Vincent Schiraldi and Don Devore, the director of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, will appear on the Kojo Nnamdi Show next Wednesday.

We heard this from someone that supports Schiraldi for OJJDP Administrator: He is now probably a dark horse candidate, almost entirely because of the columns written by the Washington Post's Colby King (we wrote about a few of those columns here). That kind of easily accessible criticism might be too much for the Obama administration to stomach sending Schiraldi up to Congress as a candidate.

***The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will rule on a curfew law in Lowell, Mass. The decision will be of interest to curfew opponents and proponents around the country, especially in the 400 or so communities that have such laws in place.

***Future of Children, a scholarly collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and the D.C.-based Brookings Institution, issued a summary report on best practices in juvenile justice.