JDAI: Day One

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Kansas City – Greetings from the City of Fountains!  As usual, JJ Today is at the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Inter-Site conference to take in some workshops and hear what’s going on out there in the juvenile justice field. It’s always worth the trip, because it’s pretty much the only place where prosecutors, defenders, advocates, facility staff and probation officers all in the same place for two days.

Technically, day one was Monday, but really it was just a welcome reception, although this year there was some rumblings early that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention might use the occasion to announce President Barack Obama’s nominee for the top job at the agency.  OJJDP Acting Deputy Administrator for Policy Melodee Hanes and a few other senior agency staffers are here for the conference, but we have it on good authority that an announcement won’t be made in Kansas City.

 “All I can tell you is, once again, we’re close,” Hanes told the crowd of 600 on Monday night. It didn’t get even polite laughter. Everyone is pretty tired of waiting, and it seems Hanes and the OJJDP staff feel the same way.

Hanes also took the opportunity to give an overview of the  freshly-named Defending Childhood Initiative, Attorney General Eric Holder’s project aimed at addressing children’s direct exposure to violence (either as victim or witness). We’ll have to follow-up with the new grantees soon to get an idea for their plans of action. A little surprising that Hanes didn’t highlight the indigent defense project afoot at Justice, given how many public defenders were in the place.

Now,  a few notes from the conference thus far:

***Here’s the bullet-point view of what’s new with JDAI and Casey:

* First-ever fiscal partnership with OJJDP. Eight new JDAI sites with pooled money from the foundation and the agency.

* New sites in attendance this year: Ohio, South Dakota, Rhode Island; Rhode Island technically was a new site last year, but actually started operation this year. Second-year sites include Wyoming, Wisconsin, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kansas.

* The initiative is going to be involved in the reform of New York City’s detention process as the entire state undergoes a JJ overhaul. That is hardly a surprise: Jjuvenile justice in the city is now under the purview of the city child welfare agency, which is led by former Casey Director of Human Service Reforms John Mattingly. And juvenile probation in the Big Apple is led by longtime JDAI ally Vincent Schiraldi. We’ve lost track of how many nonprofit juvenile justice groups New York has working on its reform at this point. If JJ still stinks there in five years, it won’t be for lack of attention or inclusion.

* Casey is down $1 billion in assets from two years ago, its new President, Patrick McCarthy, told the crowd at lunch. Foundation spending will likely come down 2 percent in the near future, but he seemed to indicate that JDAI was pretty safe and that the planned expansion into more post-adjudication reform was still in play. On Monday night, JDAI boss Bart Lubow spoke of his “expanded staff and mission.”

***We’ve reported recently that California judge and former Santa Clara prosecutor Kurt Kumli could be the OJJDP nominee. As mentioned, the announcement won’t be made here, but there is an update: Kumli definitely wants the job. So it is up to Justice and the White House whether he is the guy. That’s worth mentioning, since the past two candidates who came close to nomination chose late in the process to withdraw.

Other candidates could be in the discussions,  but it’s hard to imagine Kumli’s name getting floated around if Justice wasn’t leaning toward him. He is a white, male former prosecutor, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what anyone would have predicted for the job two years ago.

Hanes said Holder wants a renewed focus on juvenile justice to “be his legacy,” which is not the first time JJ Today has heard that uttered by Justice staff.  He has certainly been far more present on the subject than his Bush predecessors, attending the first two convenings of the Coordinating  Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (he missed the last one).

But there is no getting around the fact that his legacy on the issue is tied to two things: a dynamic OJJDP administrator, and the fate of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act Reauthorization. If the administrator is not memorable, and the act is not reauthorized during his tenure, there is little chance he will be remembered for his JJ contributions.  

***A year ago, we reported on a data collection technology called SafeMeasures that Virginia was using to improve the performance of its statewide juvenile probation system.  Sad to hear from one Virginia attendee that the state did away with it during budget cuts. The state is implementing its own version of the system, the attendee said, but at least right now, it’s not nearly as good.

***Florida juvenile justice sounds like it is in quite a bit of disarray at the moment, from what we hear in the halls. A group of counties is suing the state over the costs being passed on to them for access to detention centers. The costs are not declining even as a counties have reduced their commitments to detention, and some believe  that the state is inflating the bills to grab more county funds to pay for post-adjudication facilities.

Then there is a study that found Florida’s statewide risk assessment instrument  basically is garbage; for a period, the study was on the state website and then taken down. JJ Today is working to get a copy of the study.

***JJ Today caught some pretty cool workshops. First stop was the session on police contact with youth, where researcher Jeff Fagan discussed his finding that in New York City, a 16- to 19-year-old black male has an 80 percent chance of getting stopped for essentially a random search. Latino youth in the city have a 38 percent chance, and whites have a 10 percent chance. If the same proportions are true for younger teens (less is known about their contact with police), it is hard to imagine a greater contributor to disproportionate minority contact.

Caught a great afternoon session on ways to keep youth out of the formal delinquency system when it’s appropriate to do so. Police officer Bob Gardner of Clayton County, Ga., brought the house down with his hilarious and informative description of the county’s use of collaborative agreements to keep most school offenders out of court with a combination of restitution, after-school garbage duty, written apologies and family meetings. Gardner estimated that before the arrangements, he made 300 arrests a year in the schools and only felt good about five percent of those (the gun possession arrests, mostly, he said.)

He was followed by Vanessa Jones, director of intake for Jefferson County, Ala.’s family court. Jones described the county’s policy of informally dealing with any first-time misdemeanant, which mostly entailed meeting with the juvenile’s parents to talk things over. No petition was filed “unless…it is in the best interest of the public and the child.”

After six months, 85 percent have not been arrested, Jones said. That’s promising, although information from a year or even two out will be more telling about the success of such a practice. There was also skepticism in the audience among some who worried that in their areas, informally handling misdemeanors that involved victims (person and some property crimes) would not fly unless victims had some say-so.

More tomorrow, when Lubow is expected to cover in some detail the plan for JDAI’s partnership with OJJDP and the work Casey will do on building model alternative(s) to state training schools.