Weekly Notes: Reauthorization moves to full Senate; Speaking and training opportunities; squabble over media access in Illinois; and more

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A final Weekly Notes for 2009! Thanks to everyone who read, e-mailed or contributed in JJ Today’s first full year of existence. Hope everyone in the juvenile justice world – facility staff, probation, administrators, advocates and youth workers – have a great week and a happy New Year. For the juveniles locked up this holiday season, we pass on a special wish that they all get to at least hear from family during the holidays.

***The bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act finally made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee after being held up behind nominations and other legislation for weeks. There were no real surprises. An amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was accepted that mandates an audit of OJJDP grant making. The amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions to create more automatic transfers of juveniles in federal court, which we covered here last week, failed. It’s worth noting that a handful of the present committee members are former prosecutors, and were against the amendment.

Sen. Grassley was the only Republican to vote for the bill; the lone Democrat to vote against it was Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), who voiced concern over the size of the authorized spending levels.

How about Sen. Grassley’s Thursday morning? At about 9:30am, he was at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), announcing the formation of a Foster Care Caucus that will focus on the issues of older foster youth facing the age at which they will leave care. An hour later, he’s pushing for an audit to make sure OJJDP does its job. Then, he becomes the only Republican Yay vote on the reauthorization bill, maintaining its all-important “bipartisan” status as it moves to the full Senate. Good morning, indeed, sir.

Meanwhile, zilch is happening on the House side at the Committee on Education and Labor. Heard this from one Beltway advocate: the hope is that editorial-page columns pushing for reauthorization, which appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times recently, will inspire (or embarrass) the committee into action.

***Interesting stand-off going on between Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago radio station WBEZ. The station wants access to investigate conditions at juvenile facilities all over the state, and no wonder; here is a transcript of an interview on the station with a youth who spent some time in one of the facility’s solitary unit.

Quinn’s spokespeople are saying that can’t happen until the administration concludes its own review of the facilities, which is absurd, but offered up a tour of Cook County, which is undergoing a major overhaul at the hands of rehab guru Earl Dunlap. WBEZ wasn’t buying that, so the saga continues.

Certainly there are privacy issues for systems when it comes to youth in facilities, but media outlets routinely forge arrangements to protect anonymity in these situations. JJ Today remembers Connecticut fighting this battle with a youth media organization – Youth Rights Media, based in New Haven – and losing. The courts forced the state to allow the organization in with cameras to film conditions in the Connecticut Juvenile Training School.

Quinn has generally been open to the reforms at hand in Illinois, and his chief of staff is former Voices for Illinois Children CEO Jerry Stermer, so it’s a little surprising he is taking a tough line with WBEZ. But a high-profile expose might lead to a lawsuit, maybe a pricy reform settlement, and Illinois is up against it in the budget department. He is also about to actually run for governor for the first time, so the less scandals the better for him.

But keeping a lid on facility conditions could turn into the bigger scandal if he isn’t careful. “I think the conditions are a long way from the mission of the agency,  which is to move towards a Missouri model,” said Betsy Clarke, president of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative. Considering the level of commitment to reform in the state and the buy-in from a number of foundations, “it’s sobering the conditions remain so bad for children” in facilities.

***Joyfields Institute, which provides training and education to workers in a number of JJ-related fields, is looking for presenters and trainers. Click here for information on how to pitch your services. Upcoming sessions the institute needs speakers for include:

"Breaking Through With Youth in 2010 -- and Beyond! Evidence & Strength Based Strategies for Working With Youth and Adolescents" - March 24th (Plenary presentations only available. Currently interested in youth focused program talks on Gangs intervention, trends in assessment practice, performance measurement and quality assurance)

"Evidence Based Correctional Reform and Reentry Conference & Workshops: Paving The Way To Community Safety" - April 28-30th (Full day Workshops and hour-long plenary sessions available.  Evidence Based Adult Reentry Practices, Trends, Technology, Performance Management and Budgeting, Criminal conduct interventions, Cultural issues, etc)

"International Prisons & Corrections Leadership Summit: Public Safety Through Evidence-based Correctional Reform, Reintegration and Reentry" - July 19 - 23 (Full day Workshops and hour-long plenary sessions available.  Leadership Development, Reentry Practices, Trends, Technology, Performance Management and Budgeting, Criminal conduct interventions, Values Based Leadership, Cultural issues, etc)

***Some recently released reads:

-The Government Accountability Office’s report to the House Judiciary Committee on OJJDP’s efforts to enhance information on effective reentry and substance abuse programs for juvenile offenders. GAO’s verdict, the office has helped promote an array of programs in both arenas, but only a few of them have generally been proven to be effective. The office recommended the development of “a cost-effective mechanism to regularly solicit and incorporate feedback from the juvenile justice field on the usefulness of information in the Model Programs Guide.”

The Department of Justice agreed with the recommendation.

-Second edition of the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Guide for Preventing and Responding to School Violence, which is done in conjunction with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Chapters in the guide cover pretty much every angle of school security: prevention, threat assessment, crisis planning, major crisis situations, and handling media and legal issues.

-Charting a New Course, the report by New York Governor David Paterson’s Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice. This reform is almost certainly going to mirror the path taken first by Missouri, and later by D.C.., where the state moves towards small, dorm-style buildings that focus on youth development and education. The task force is lead by John Jay College of Criminal Justice President Jeremy Travis, who was director of the National Institute of Justice under former President Bill Clinton.

New York JJ boss Joyce Burrell might have an easier time than her compatriots in Missouri and D.C., but not for the greatest of reasons. New York is one of the few states that consider everyone over 15 to be adults for the purposes of the justice system. So the state juvenile justice agency can focus in on younger, and potentially less-hardened, juvenile offenders. Also, it’s clear now that a slew of the locked-up juveniles in New York were there for low-level crimes. So downsizing the population could be pretty easy, and with reformer Vinnie Schiraldi scheduled to take over juvenile probation in February, you can certainly expect to see less youths landing behind bars for simple probation violations.

All of that bodes well for an attempt by New York to change the way it works with serious offenders in locked facilities. On the other hand, findings on the state system point to a whole lot of juveniles in need of serious mental health services, and the Missouri model isn’t really targeted at youth in that situation.