JDAI Conference: Parting Thoughts


The staff of Youth Today was all over the JDAI conference last week. You can read all of our coverage of day one here and day two here. A few final thoughts:

***Nice move putting the conference at the Renaissance Hotel, Annie E. Casey Foundation. The hotel is just a stone's throw away from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's location. JJ Today saw a fair number of OJJDP staffers, sans name tags, milling about, sneaking into workshops and mixing in the hallways. We don't think JDAI leadership minded that at all.

***Wouldn't be surprised at all if next year's conference is held in Minneapolis. Representatives from Ramsey County (St. Paul) and Minnesota state coordinator Angelique Kedem were included on several workshop panels. Ramsey is definitely being held out by JDAI leaders as the archetype for replication success.

But for the third year in a row, participants strongly favored holding the conference in Hawaii, one of the newer states in the JDAI family.

***Also seen milling about (with name tags) were Edgar Cahn and Cynthia Robbins, who are heading up a project aimed at compelling localities to get moving on disproportionate minority contact. Cahn is well-known to the D.C. crowd because he invented the Time Dollar Court, a juvenile diversion program in the city, which has proliferated throughout the country through his nonprofit, TimeBanks USA.

Cahn is already staffing up. JJ Today met the delightful Keri Nash, Time Banks' newest lawyer, who will work full time on the project. Here's hoping she passes the bar examination she just finished after graduating from the David Clarke School of Law, part of the University of the District of Columbia which evolved out of the Antioch School of Law, which founded by Cahn in 1972. 

While many of the participants got together for their JDAI affinity sessions (where prosecutors meet with other prosecutors, judges with judges, etc.), a room full of lawyers and advocates got together for an informal conversation about Cahn's strategy.

They were generous enough to let this reporter in, but pretty much only to listen. So without getting into the specifics of what was discussed, here's the story: there are a lot of people excited about the possibility of Cahn's strategy working. And all of those people also have serious concerns about why it might not work. But this was a positive critique session, focused on finding every way in which the threat of litigation could get shot down so that Cahn and company could figure out how to solve those problems.

***Two topics dominated the federal-level scuttlebutt at the conference, of course: who will run OJJDP, and will Congress move on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act reauthorization this year?

On the first point, every person we spoke with seems genuinely in the dark about who the administration will choose. Many JJ reform advocates support Vinny Schiraldi, who spoke at the JDAI conference. There is definitely a feeling, however, that if the pick were Schiraldi it would have been made by now. 

On the second point, one source from the Act4JJ group put together to push for the reauthorization said it will be evident in early September whether Congressional leadership is serious about making the bill happen this year. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it would be moved through committee and to the floor after work on health care reform and the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court were concluded. Once the summer recess ends, there is no reason for reauthorization to be held up.

On the flipside, we heard that a bill many JJ advocates can't stand - Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) Gang Abatement Act - came close to passing just before the summer recess. The bill would federalize a lot of crime deemed to be gang activity. In some places that will mean stiffer sentences for such crimes; oddly enough, Feinstein's own state already has more punitive gang laws on the books than would be imposed by the bill.

"The last time I checked, dealing drugs was already against the law everywhere," said Youth Law Center attorney Sue Burrell, a longtime Californian who said she respects Feinstein on the whole but wishes somebody close to her would tell her how "out-of-touch" she is on this bill.

It's not just Feinstein's name on the legislation, though. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a renowned champion of youth programs such as YouthBuild, and Arlen Specter (D-Penn.), a respected voice on JJ issues, also support the bill.

***We expect that Dwayne Betts will be an enormous asset in the movement to curb transfers of juveniles to adult courts and prisons, a movement spearheaded by Liz Ryan and the Campaign for Youth Justice. Betts, a Maryland native, went into adult prison at age 16 and was released after eight years in 2005. JJ Today will be diving into his new book, A Question of Freedom, this week.

CFYJ held a post-conference book release party for Betts at the Public Welfare Foundation, which also doubled as the organization's launch of its Join the Movement Campaign, a grassroots advocacy effort that will be carried out in large part by families that have been affected by juvenile transfers.

Betts, who also spoke at the JDAI conference, has that "thing" it takes to be a great public speaker. He can make a crowd laugh, tear up or get angry. He begins a multi-state book tour this week, and Ryan at CFYJ tells us that countless media outlets and youth programs want some of his time while he's on the road.

***Best of luck to Craig Bachman, who told JJ Today in the beer line at the opening reception that he just stepped in as the new director of Multnomah's County's juvenile detention center. Bachman has been on the adult side of justice for awhile, but got his start as an officer at the old detention center. He will now be the boss of line staffers he used to work with.

It can't be easy running the most watched detention center in the nation. Multnomah has long been JDAI's premier model site, so the center gets all kinds of visitors. The line staff are currently negotiating for new contract terms; Bachman told us it is definitely strange being on the other side of the table during that process. 

***We mentioned this already in a write-up of the excellent workshop on Community Conferencing, but...Baltimore has a SEPARATE POLICE DEPARTMENT FOR SCHOOLS! What's going on? Is JJ Today naïve, or is that fairly singular to Baltimore?