Weekly Notes: Funding from DOJ; hearing on girls in JJ; and more

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Funding

The Department of Justice has issued solicitations for three pots of money that support mentoring programs:

National Mentoring Programs: This would be a tough one to land if the name of your organization isn’t Boys & Girls Clubs of America or Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. The solicitation says Justice will make multiple awards, but the eligibility requirements state that grantees have to have affiliates in 45 states, and must pass 90 percent of the grant on to affiliates in 45 states. The deadline to apply is April 22.

Multi-State Mentoring Initiative: The big mentoring names are ineligible for this one; you cannot apply if you have affiliates in the majority of states. But Justice isn’t interested in funding mom-and-pop programs or start-ups through this solicitation, either. Candidates must have been in existence for three years, and have established programs in five or more states. The deadline is April 22.

Second Chance Act Juvenile Mentoring Initiative: Both nonprofits and state agencies can apply for these grants, and the scope is specific: offenders under the age of 18 who are released from correctional facilities. Awards are expected to be just north of $600,000. The deadline is April 27.

News

***The House Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities held a hearing yesterday about the challenges facing girls involved in the juvenile justice system. It was the second recent House subcommittee hearing on the subject; the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security held a similar hearing back in October.

The difference: Democratic leadership at the Judiciary Committee is overtly on board with reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). But while the Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over juvenile justice, House legislation on the subject has traditionally gone through the Committee on Education and Labor, of which Healthy Families and Communities is a subcommittee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a reauthorization bill for a second consecutive year. But there is mounting frustration with the Education/Labor Committee among reauthorization proponents because its chairman, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), has given little indication that movement on a companion bill is forthcoming. His spokeswoman did tell us back in October that Miller was committed to getting a reauthorization bill done by the end of 2010.

Miller did not attend the hearing (although he is a member of the subcommittee), and he was hardly alone on the absentee list. Only subcommittee chair Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) was present for the entirety of the hearing. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) dropped in, as did Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

The record of McCarthy’s remarks and the testimony of the six witnesses will reflect three major points, should Miller review it: reauthorize JJDPA; include a phase-out of the valid court order (VCO) provision; and require states to collect data aggregated by gender.

The VCO phase-out – which would block judges from locking up any status offender who has already received a court order to stop status offending – was probably the concept most frequently mentioned.

“Valid court orders are morally wrong and fiscally wrong,” said witness Brian Huff, a juvenile judge from Birmingham, Ala, who said that he mistakenly relied on the practice earlier in his judicial career. “I shouldn’t have had that option.”

The Senate reauthorization bill already has a phase-out of the VCO. Including a phase-out in whatever gets through Education/Labor would increase the odds that the concept survives a floor vote and conferencing.

Watch New Yorker Rachel Carrion’s testimony if you have a minute: It is probably the most concise and complete depiction of how girls get screwed up by the JJ system. Carrion got court-involved for fighting with another girl and was sentenced to a detention alternative program. She then failed a drug test because of marijuana use, and was locked up for it. This is all on the heels of Carrion losing her mom to breast cancer.

While she was in one of New York’s youth facilities (and we are all now learning exactly how bad some of them were), Carrion was drawn into a sexual relationship with a 30-year-old guard who provided her with drugs. Upon release, she took to prostituting herself on the street to get money for her escalating drug habits.

Could you draw a straighter, more dysfunctional line between poor performance by a JJ system and later negative behavior?

***One of the biggest challenges when it comes to girls is that even when their actions do warrant a trip to secure facilities, the options available are often poor or scarce. To wit:

– Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen’s recent budget proposal would close the New Visions Youth Development Center, the state’s sole girls-only facility. The girls would be placed in a wing at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center.

The proposal would save $2 million annually for Tennessee, according to the governor’s proposal. The state might need that money to hire lawyers, because last time girls were at Woodland Hills it was a volatile situation, as this article by Tennessean reporter Nate Rau indicates.

In the highly publicized Justice report about sex in juvenile facilities, Woodland Hills ranked among the facilities with the highest reported sexual victimization rates in the nation.

“I certainly realize that these are difficult economic times and that there is a scarcity of resources,” said Lawanda Ravoira, director of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Center for Girls & Young Women, when JJ Today told her about the proposal. “However, it does not give policy makers an excuse for having a scarcity of courage and commitment to girls.”

– In Maryland, Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Don DeVore will not completely shut down the state’s secure girls’ facility, the Thomas J.S. Waxter Center in Laurel. But he has acknowledged that it’s not the type of place he wants as an option. The ACLU of Maryland published a report documenting what the girls in Waxter think of the place

Headlines

***Arizona Republicans ended talk of closing down Arizona’s state juvenile justice agency, at least for this year. A commission will discuss potential changes to the scope of the agency going forward.

***Looks like Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), a stand-alone agency for the past four years, will merge with the Department of Children and Family Services. DJJ was split off from the Department of Corrections in 2006, but continued to share certain administrative services with it.

That move would leave 15 free-standing state juvenile justice agencies, and JJ Today would not be surprised to hear about more merging with larger state agencies in the near future. There is the obvious advantage of cost-sharing some administrative work, and some feel that linking juvenile justice and child welfare services in the same agency is beneficial.

“I like to view it from the child’s point of view,” said Michigan juvenile justice director John Evans when he talked to Youth Today for a story on state leadership last month.  “These kids are virtually the same kids. It’s just a matter of which door they come in.”

The 15 states with free standing agencies, besides Illinois: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Washington, D.C. has an independent agency for juvenile justice. So did New York City, whose JJ system is bigger than most states even though teens over 15 are considered adults for criminal purposes. But Mayor Bloomberg recently moved the department to the control of the Administration for Children’s Services, headed by John Mattingly, which oversees child welfare for the city.

***This should be an interesting case to follow: Marin County, Calif., cut its court security staff (responsible for transporting offenders to and from court) at its juvenile hall to combat budget shortfalls. Its new policy, with fewer people to do the job of moving juveniles, is to keep incarcerated youth in juvenile hall during uncontested hearings regarding their cases. The juvenile could participate in such hearings using teleconference equipment. 

Youth Law Center is suing the county over the policy, reports Gary Klien of the Contra Costa Times, on the grounds that it deprives juveniles of the right to appear in court.

The presiding judge in Marin, Terrence Boren, already signed off on the new policy, so this will likely become a debate about what counts as “presence.”