Weekly Notes: Cabinet converges for coordinating council; ICAC grant available; and more

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***There is officially a sign that the administration of Barack Obama has juvenile justice on its radar. And it came down unto the field in the grand form of a …meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, held Monday afternoon.

Thanks to deadlines for our little juggernaut of a paper, JJ Today could not get over to the OJJDP offices. We got word earlier that Attorney General Eric Holder would chair the meeting himself, which is one more cabinet member than we ever saw at a council meeting during the Bush administration.

Holder’s presence would have been newsworthy enough, but that was not all.. In attendance for the council gathering (either for the closed session, the public one or both):

-Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

-Pamela Hyde, Administrator, Substance and Mental Health Services Administration at HHS

-Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education

-Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor

-Jane Oates, assistant labor secretary for the Employment Training Administration.

-Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

“I’ve never seen so many political appointees in a room at one time,” said Harry Wilson, one of the nine practitioner members of the council. Keep in mind: he was a political appointee of Bush.

Wilson, now a consultant at ICF, oversaw the Family Youth Services Bureau at HHS. He also serves on the board of the National Network for Youth, which is the group he represents as a practitioner member of the council. Wilson said he was amazed when he saw all the cabinet members that turned up for the meeting, and even more stunned when they formed a receiving line to meet and greet the practitioner members.

Holder started the public portion of the council meeting by quipping that this was one of the few rooms he could preside over without some kind of media firestorm (true, especially since to our knowledge, JJ reporter emeritus Marion Mattingly was the only scribe in attendance).

What both Mattingly and Wilson took away from the meeting, they told JJ Today, was a sense that Holder wants progress on juvenile justice to be a hallmark of his tenure as attorney general.

“He said he wants to leave a legacy” that includes youth development, Mattingly said.

Justice did a lot of advance work before this meeting to craft the agenda for this year’s coordinating council. OJJDP staff, led by deputy administrator of policy Melodee Hanes and Concentration of Federal Efforts Director Robin Delany-Shabazz, conferred with staff at the other agencies to develop a list of issues that might be taken up by the council. That effort bore a list of about 17 issues, which was pared down to four that will be focused on for 2010:

-Education of youth at-risk of delinquency

-Tribal youth

-Juvenile re-entry

-Racial/ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice and related systems.

Each of the issues will be taken up by a focus group made up of agency leaders and staffers along with OJJDP staff and the council’s practitioner members. JJ Today was a little surprised not to see mental health-slash-drugs on there, especially with HHS in the mix. Then again, the council has already made some strides recently in improving the federal investment in juvenile drug courts.

Now, some inside-the-Beltway meeting, in and of itself, doesn’t do squat for juveniles, or youth on the brink of becoming juvenile delinquents. And the coordinating council has a pretty meager budget to spend. But this should be viewed as a momentous occasion for two reasons.

First: juvenile justice has gotten pretty short shrift in Washington this year. There was a lot of excitement about the prospect of a dynamic new administrator and reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Neither has materialized. And though it should be noted that OJJDP has by all accounts run smoothly and effectively under Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski, many advocates believe the push to reauthorize JJDPA would go a lot faster if Justice would start supporting it publicly.

This was a major gesture from the administration that juvenile justice is on the agenda, really the first since Charles Ogletree represented a newly-elected Obama at a town hall on the subject hosted by the American Bar Association.

Second: With a spending freeze on discretionary spending looming for next year, coupled with crippled state budgets, federal resources for youth services will be at a premium. One JJ insider we talked to believes that interagency agreements on programs and projects could make that situation better and the people at the meeting on Monday are the ones who can easily cut away red tape to make it happen.

***The D.C.-based Violence Policy Center released an analysis of data on black homicide victims from 2007. Of the 7,387 documented victims that year, 674 (nine percent) were under 18.

Another interesting figure: 10 percent of the 4,362 cases where circumstances were identified were reported to be gang related, and almost half of that 10 percent was in California.

It’s possible that California is more diligent about reporting gang connections than other states. But we bet if you asked Joe Sixpack what percentage of black homicides were gang-related, he’d guess way higher than 10 percent.

***Funding is available from OJJDP for community organizations and public agencies that can help law enforcement develop effective responses to online enticement of children by sexual predators, child exploitation, and child obscenity and pornography cases. The Internet Crimes Against Children Program Support grant will likely go to one recipient in the amount of $2 million. Deadline to apply is March 26.

***In New Jersey, the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders voted to close the county’s detention center yesterday, and the news sort of epitomizes the bittersweet scenario these days when it comes to de-incarceration efforts.

On one hand, the closure probably would not have happened had Monmouth not pared its detention population. The county is part of the state’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), and the state has become a model of that process for its architect, the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Closing some of the state’s 17 detention centers likely would make any future proclivity towards over-incarceration tricky.

On the other hand, the reason Monmouth and other detention centers around the country are being shuttered lately is because of money – pure and simple. Counties are struggling to rein in costs across the board, so the savings from the closure (about $2 million per year in this case) is just a credit on a big balance sheet. What advocates of reform want is for the money spent on locking youth up to be plowed into other programs for youth.

Also, the center Monmouth juveniles will now be detained at in Middlesex County is about 30 miles from the Monmouth center, so some families could have trouble visiting juveniles. And you hate to see any 56 people lose jobs (let alone youth workers) in the current economy, which is what will happen the day the Monmouth center closes.

***The Nebraska legislature is considering two bills that would remove a lot of the collateral consequences for teens and adults who were adjudicated as juveniles. The central aim of LB 800 and LB 923: preventing juvenile offenses from affecting the employment and academic prospects of young people.