Hornberger, Choice of Some Nat’l Advocates, Not on Justice’s Short List?

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Office of Justice Programs boss Laurie Robinson told JJ Today last week that the department was in the process of interviewing a new round of candidates for the OJJDP Administrator position. By coincidence, we had just sent out a feeler to some sources to ask who they felt might be a good fit for the nomination at this point.

Important: We were not asking for any official endorsement of a specific candidate; just asking: who they thought could do the job.

Of those who responded, all but two identified Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, as someone they felt would be an effective administrator. CJJ is a nonprofit association representing governor-appointed advisory groups on juvenile justice.

Two things go against Hornberger’s chances. First, it is well known that the administration wants to fill the OJJDP position with a person of color; there are currently no Senate-confirmed minority leaders within the Office of Justice Programs. Second, the interviews of OJJDP are wrapping up, JJ Today has heard, and we know that Hornberger had not been contacted for an interview by the Justice Department as of last week.

That the national JJ advocacy community identified Hornberger is in one way surprising. This is a group that, by and large, saw Vinny Schiraldi as a perfect candidate for OJJDP when Obama took office in 2009.

Schiraldi is a brash guy who is no stranger to open, public controversy after his time reforming D.C.’s Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services (actually, even before he took over the department). Hornberger is a soft-spoken, consensus-builder whose work behind the scenes was instrumental in the structure of the Senate’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act reauthorization bill.

Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, posited the theory that advocates who once envisioned a bold and daring OJJDP under Obama now believe that the expectations should be different.

“There is a realization of the Obama administration’s need to be seen not as too radical,” said Velázquez. “Given the range of possibilities they could live with, Nancy is a good choice.”

Hornberger’s chief strength, Velázquez and others believe, is the fact that she understands and communicates with state JJ leaders better than perhaps anyone else. She has been in charge at CJJ, the chief non-governmental liaison between Washington and the states on juvenile justice, since 2006. She was deputy director to David Doi for seven years before that.

The reauthorization will foist some significant changes on states, especially if the final version includes a phase-out of the valid court order exception to detain status offenders and/or a stepped-up requirement around disproportionate minority contact. So OJJDP will need its leadership to have good relationships with the state leaders that will ultimately have to oversee such changes.

“She’s in sort of a unique position,” said Velázquez. “Nancy understands in a very visceral way the challenges [states] face. She understands Washington, and what happens in the states.”

Some other pro-Hornberger comments:

Tim Briceland-Betts, director of government affairs for Child Welfare League of America: “I’ve seen her in action over the years and have the utmost respect for her ability, dedication, and determination. But really it is the powerful combination of the deep understanding of the policy issues and strong connection to and appreciation for the field that puts at the top of my list. 

Sarah Bryer, director of the National Juvenile Justice Network: “NJJN believes that Nancy Gannon Hornberger possesses the traits identified by the NJJN membership as key OJJDP leadership, is an excellent advocate for the humane treatment of youth in conflict with the law, and should be considered for the position of OJJDP Administrator.”

(Note: NJJN is hosted and sponsored by Hornberger’s CJJ).

Marlana Valdez, director of Maryland’s Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit: “Much of OJJDP's responsibility involves working with states via their State Advisory [Groups], and Nancy knows each one of the SAGs extremely well via her work at CJJ. She knows the particular challenges in each state, the political landscape there, and what type of funding and oversight is needed to move reform forward. Unlike some people in advocacy organizations, Nancy has excellent relations with Congressional and OJJDP staff.”