Weekly Notes: Interesting recs discussed by JJ Council; new Youtube video pushes reauthorization; and more

Print

***First, a quick teaser for “Psych Meds Behind Bars,” a major story coming out in the October edition of Youth Today, which should be available to subscribers on our website next week. The story reports on what Youth Today found out from each state about its use of anti-psychotic medication in secure juvenile facilities. Anti-pscyhotic medications have only recently been approved for use with adolescents by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and are only approved for use with bipolar or schizophrenic patients.

The main findings:

1) Most state agencies (34 of them) either would not or could not tell us basic information: what was spent on those medications, and what diagnosed conditions they were used for. 

2) Of the ones who could provide diagnosis information, 75 percent of prescriptions were either prescribed for something other than bipolar or schizophrenia, or were simply missing a diagnosis.

***JJ Today caught the meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention today, which featured interesting presentations by Missouri Division of Youth Services Director Tim Decker and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who told the council about his plan to use Decker’s agency as a model for New Orleans’ juvenile justice system.

Two other tidbits from the meeting:

-Attorney General Eric Holder was not there (first time for that), but he did use the evening before the meeting to officially launch the “Defending Childhood” initiative. The mission is basically a re-branding of the Children’s Exposure to Violence project that Justice has been working on, which will combine research and pilot projects aimed at developing the knowledge base on how to keep youth who witness or experience violence from becoming future victimizers.

The money for Defending Childhood will be cobbled together this year out of funds from a number of different Office of Justice Programs divisions, including the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). President Obama has asked for $37 million in fiscal 2011 funds for the initiative.

The demonstration sites for Defending Childhood: Boston; Portland, Maine; Chippewa Creek Tribe, Mont.; City of Grand Forks, N.D.; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Multnomah County, Ore.; Rosebud Sioux Tribe, S.D.; and Shelby County, Tenn.

-The council has put together four “issue teams” that are tasked with studying the following four issues and presenting policy recommendations in a paper to the council: re-entry, education, tribal youth and racial and ethnic disparities.

Issue team members updated the council on progress and each mentioned a few recommendations they were considering for their respective papers. Three got JJ Today’s attention.

The education group is considering a recommendation to actively discourage zero tolerance policies within any school system getting federal grant money, according to issue team member Kellie Dressler, who is an acting associate administrator for OJJDP.  Gordon Martin, a former Massachusetts judge, told Dressler and the council that the recommendation should be for Department of Justice to adopt the policy that “zero tolerance is a mistake … flatly said.” Lot of nods in the room for that one.

The re-entry group mentioned two recommendations that would really shake up federal policy: that federal Medicaid provisions deeming incarcerated juveniles ineligible should be lifted, and that education provided to all juveniles should have to be accredited by school systems.

The latter recommendation is interesting, because transfer of credits from juvenile facilities to public schools has long been a problem for youths. But the quality of education in some of those facilities is poor enough that you understand why a responsible school district would have a problem acknowledging the work.

The Medicaid proposal, if it ever came to fruition, would have monstrous implications, with advocates on both sides of the fence. It is no secret that juvenile facilities are full of youths who need mental health and other medical services, and the fact that states are not reimbursed by the feds for any of those services almost certainly limits the care that juveniles get.

On the other hand, allowing states to get federal reimbursements for expenditures on juveniles would open up a significant pipeline of resources flowing to mental health services inside juvenile facilities. There are some who fear that, if this was the case, it would incentivize locking up even more juveniles because judges, parents, prosecutors and defenders would know that help was available within the walls.

The issue team should know that one jurisdiction – Bernalillo County, New Mexico – did figure out a way to get federally reimbursed for its mental health services to juveniles who were locked up before adjudication. Youth Today covered the county’s efforts in this 2008 story.

***The Children’s Defense Fund released a video urging Congress to pass the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) before the recess. Basically, the reauthorization either passes before the recess or it will probably have to wait until January, because the months between the November elections and 2011 are not expected to see much bipartisanship and action.

The video is not directly critical of anyone, but the meat of the ad features an interview with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) by the Campaign for Youth Justice. The interview, done in May, features a Miller that fully expects to introduce and move a JJDPA bill by the fall.

Way back in October of 2009, his spokeswoman, Melissa Salamanowitz, told JJ Today that Miller was “committed to a comprehensive reauthorization this Congress.”

The Senate has a bill that could go to the floor for a vote at any time, but Miller has yet to even introduce a bill to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which he chairs.

***Two interesting reports were release this month that should be of tangential interest to juvenile justice observers:

Suspended Education, by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a look at suspension rates in urban middle schools in 18 cities. The findings, in a nutshell: Suspension rates in most of the cities skyrocketed between 2002 and 2006, and in most locations, the recipients of most suspensions were black males and females.  

*** Adolescent Fighting: Racial/Ethnic Disparities and the Importance of Families and Schools, by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. The report authors found that African-American and Latino boys report more fighting than their white counterparts, and suggest that culturally tailoring violence prevention efforts will increase the odds of such programs working.