Three Names in Mind at Justice for OJJDP Job

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This article was corrected on May 27

Sources close to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention say three people are being considered by the Department of Justice to be recommended for the top spot at the agency, which is currently held by Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski.

The three:

-Vicki Spriggs, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.

Spriggs appears to be the frontrunner at this point, from what JJ Today hears. Her background includes one of the qualities many in the field view as critical for the next administrator: experience in running a big juvenile justice system.

Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC), with a staff of about 66, oversees the county  departments that each year handle more than 40,000 juveniles on probation. Another agency, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), is responsible for juveniles who are incarcerated in secure facilities.

“OJJDP needs strong leadership after the long dark years of the Bush administration,” said Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy. “Vicky Spriggs has demonstrated dynamic and effective leadership in Texas and would bring those skills to OJJDP.”

Another national JJ figure, who believes Justice should have tapped Vinny Schiraldi for this job months ago, disagreed.

“She was not part of the reform movement in Texas,” he said. “She’s no Vinny Schiraldi.”

A Texas JJ reform advocate – Marc Levin, director of the Austin-based Center for Effective Justice – told us that while Spriggs might not be out advocating reform, her implementation of changes has been excellent.

Last year the state year approved a “committed reduction” plan to provide funds to any county that agreed to lower the number of juveniles it committed to TYC facilities. Commitments to TYCin 2010 are down 40 percent compared with the same time frame in 2009, according to Levin.

“TJPC put together the whole framework” for that concept, Levin said. “A lot of impetus for change will come from outside the system. But I certainly give[Spriggs] and the commission credit for implementing them. I would be disappointed to lose her.”

Spriggs has strong ties to some national juvenile justice organizations. She is the current chair of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Oakland-based research and training/technical assistance organization that handles projects with a number of states and counties, as well was with OJJDP. She is the Texas team leader for the Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network, part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative.

Spriggs is also director of the 13-state southern region for the National Association of Probation Executives. A number of those states have some work to do when it comes to complying with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

-Ernestine Gray, chief judge of the Orleans Parish (La.) Juvenile Court

Gray has been involved in juvenile and family court since the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s second term. Though she has not run a major state or county system, she is certainly not a novice when it comes to juvenile justice.

Gray has long been involved with two organizations with close ties to OJJDP. She is the current chair of the board of trustees for National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and is a former president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

An interesting side note of a Gray nomination: It would mean there would be two former presidents of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges holding senate-confirmed jobs at the Office of Justice Programs at the same time. Former council president Susan Carbon was confirmed in February to lead the Office on Violence Against Women. It would represent quite a turnaround in stature for a group that got into hot water with the last administration over use of federal dollars.

-Gladys Carrión, director of the New York Office of Child and Family Services.

That Carrión’s name is still out there surprises us, because multiple sources who work closely with her told JJ Today that she is not interested and has told Justice as much.

“I think she’s terrific,” said one source. “But she’s not a candidate.”

Carrión has presided for three years over a system with abusive conditions in its secure facilities that became such an issue, she basically instructed judges to stop placing youths in some of them. The Justice Department has investigated, and the state is hoping to stave off federal oversight with a cocktail of solutions: closure of many facilities, improving conditions in those that remain open, and larger investment in community programming and alternatives to incarceration.

Publicly, Carrión has support on that front. “We’ve got as good a commissioner as we’re gonna get,” said New York City’s new probation chief and former D.C. reformer Vincent Schiraldi, speaking at a March panel held by the Center for New York City Affairs. “We’re not gonna get any better than Gladys.”

Privately, some prominent JJ players have voiced frustration that while Carrión talks the right way, she has come up short on the first action towards reform of the state system: facility closures.

In a cash-strapped state, closure of some facilities is what can provide savings within OCFS to free money for other investments and improvements.  The main opponents of those closures are the union employees who work there and politicians who represent those workers. There are some who feel that Carrión did not reach out more to negotiate something with them, instead taking an aggressive tone about the issue in the media.

Other JJ leaders also were furious with Carrión after the New York Times exposed the haphazard mental health services provided to securely confined youth.

One leader of a group that partners with OCFS said problems with Carrión’s performance in New York might not be an issue in the federal office.

“She has great vision and philosophy,” he said. “I certainly would like her at OJJDP.”