Weekly Notes: Missouri Model Goes Primetime; The Mysterious White House Gang Conference; Violence and Truancy in Baltimore; and more


***The fanfare around the Missouri approach to working with juveniles in secure facilities - small community facilities broken into groups of youth, a development approach, focus on education, you know the drill - got the attention of ABC. The network had reporter Chris Cuomo spend a year following juveniles at Missouri's Waverly Regional Youth Center, along with one girl from a nearby facility for girls, for a piece that aired on "Primetime" this week.

Cuomo's segment is well done, and you really get a feeling for two things: why the spotlighted youths reverted to criminal activity, and how Missouri's approach works to address those underlying problems. The piece also expounds upon a critical point in these economic times: The state spends about $50,000 per youth in its facilities each year, about half of the national average. If it works so well and is less expensive, the host of a nationally-viewed television program rhetorically asks, why isn't everyone doing it?

That is a compelling scene for people who would like to see Missouri's model proliferate around the country. We have only one criticism for ABC on this piece: Where are the black kids?

Yes, Missouri has vast expenses of rural terrain and centers like Waverly to work with juveniles in those areas. But about two-thirds of the youth in state juvenile facilities are from the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, and the vast majority of those juveniles are minorities.

Clearly, ABC picked one facility and decided to focus on it as a microcosm of the larger system, and the majority of youths at Waverly appear to be white (at least from the ABC segments). Which is fine, it's not easy to put together a coherent package for television, and that keeps the story focused.

The image already exists that Missouri does well because it just works with "young, white rural kids with mental health needs," said Mark Steward, the architect of the Missouri model who oversees a consulting group that helps other jurisdictions adopt the model (the Missouri Youth Services Institute). "That argument keeps people from taking action" when it comes to using the model for urban populations.

Steward's fear: That some JJ director would watch the ABC piece, and think, that group stuff Missouri does with white kids won't work with most of our kids because they're black and Latino youth from the city." And that frustrates Steward to no end because the model has worked for minority youths coming in from Missouri's urban communities.

Meanwhile, we thought it would be a good time to get an update from Steward on MYSI's existing replication efforts.

Lousiana: "Back on track, trying to get its populations down. I'd say they're in the final phase. I didn't realize until I was down there [last week], they'd gone down from 2,000 in secure care to 400." [FYI: That is the number of youth in state facilities, it doesn't count county-run secure placements].

Washington, D.C.: "It is really coming along now that they're out of that horrible, horrible facility [Oak Hill, which was replaced recently by the New Beginnings Youth Center]."

Santa Clara County, Calif.: "We just finished up. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency just completed a study that showed really good results" from the replication. [Read that report here].

San Francisco: "We just started July 1. They have a pretty small [juvenile justice] program, so that should be a short-term project."

New Mexico: We have a full-force team there now. The pilot project in Las Cruces is up, now we're getting it into operation" statewide. "Las Cruces had a tremendous focus on the reduction of violence. They've really reduced incidents of violence in the place by about 90 percent."

Future projects include New York (which could use some help) and Los Angeles (county and city). JJ Today thought Texas was working with Steward, but he said he hasn't heard much from them since the state cleaned house after the abuse allegations and hired Cherie Townsend.

***Luzerne Update! Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were indicted again this week, after a judge tossed out their plea and the judges decided to take their chances in court. They now face 48 separate charges and if they were convicted on all of them could spend decades in prison. Under the original plea agreement, the judges would have done just north of seven years.

Times-Leader's Jerry Lynott reports that the judges will be mentioned in Michael Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, which premieres in the states on Oct. 2, but which has been shown at both the Cannes and Venice (Italy) film festivals.

***We reported earlier this week on the release of A Pivotal Moment, a report by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice about states' relations with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. One thing we did not get to in our piece was, what did OJJDP think of it?

CJJ executive director Nancy Gannon Hornberger said CJJ met with OJJDP Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski and his state relations staff.  Slowikowski "did not endorse the report and had some criticisms, yet did clearly state that he agrees with all of the report's recommendations," Hornberger said. 

***A lot of JJ folks were irked at the way the White House put together its Conference on Gang Violence Prevention and Crime Control, which was held in late August. There was little (if any) public notice about the conference, it was invitation only, and few of those invites went to associations, advocates or watchdog types. Lots of mayors were in attendance, and lots of leaders from local law enforcement.

That sparked lots of angst about what was being discussed, and what the tone of the those discussions. There are two major pieces of legislation pending that pertain to gangs and youth - Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Gang Abatement Act and Rep. Bobby Scott's PROMISE Act. Most JJ advocates want PROMISE and despise Feinstein's bill, and were concerned

JJ Today got our hands on the agenda for the conference, which we are posting here, and Scott had a chance to address the conference; we don't know if Feinstein was invited to speak, but she was not on the agenda. And after chatting with Tino Cuellar, who serves on the domestic policy council and helped organize the conference, we got the sense that the White House just wanted a chance to convene mayors and police leadership without a whole bunch of other people in the room.

We also got the sense that Cuellar believes there is room for compromise on Feinstein and Scott's bills. We asked Scott that same question once, and let's just say we don't share Cuellar's opinion on the matter.

***A report from the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General says the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is not doing enough to curb sexual assaults on its inmates by its staff. BOP doesn't handle many juveniles; the majority of them are Native American males, and most of the rest are D.C. juveniles who have been sentenced as adults.

***Baltimore Sun reporter Kelly Brewington covered the late August release of an interesting study on the interplay between violence and truancy in Baltimore. The city's health department used data from 2002 to 2007 to come to two interesting conclusions: youth who were victims of violence were equally likely to become truant as youth who were perpetrators of violence, and victimized youths were often involved in the juvenile justice systems themselves. 

***In Ohio, it hasn't been easy balancing the educational needs of juvenile sex offenders with school safety policy, according to this story by the Associated Press.