OJJDP @ 35: Recollections

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[See related article, OJJDP Leaders Talk Money, Politics and Advocacy; watch videos from the forum at http://www.youthtodayexchange.org]

John Rector
Appointed by Jimmy Carter

The Juvenile Justice Act

The motive behind the act, which Rector played a key role in writing as a senior staffer to its chief architect, Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.):

“This was not done to help out those working in the juvenile justice system, with all due respect. The predicate was that the system was failing and it really needed a change. The intervention was excessive; the overreach was excessive. You needed to focus on the really violent conduct, not focus on non-criminal conducts, especially when it came to young women.”

“It was about advocacy. It was about change, reform.”

How much to spend

About grappling over spending with the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), which oversaw OJJDP within the Department of Justice, while he was still on the congressional staff:

[We] wanted money spent in ways different than the way LEAA was spending. … “We got an amendment passed … that required them to continue to spend 19.5 or so percent of their total appropriation for juvenile justice.”

“It was a real thorn in their side. They tried to get it repealed on several occasions.”

Running the office

“I was used to controversy, but it didn’t really help in the office context. … The world I entered had a different culture, to put it mildly.”

“We knew we had a couple of years and it would be exit time,” because a potential change of presidential administrations would mean a change in leadership at OJJDP. “We knew the clock was ticking. We weren’t there to be long-termers. We were there to do a few things, like allocate the money, try to implement the act and hit the road.”

Some controversies

“One thing that became very controversial: The discretionary funds, the special emphasis funds, went through the criminal justice state planning agencies. Well, we changed that. We put it into the Federal Register … and opened it up in the world” for competitive bidding. “That probably caused me more grief … than most of the things we did.”