R.I.P. Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice: 2004-2010

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With little fanfare and virtually no public discussion preceding it, the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice last week held its final meeting at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The group met with OJJDP officials, took a few photos and shared a last meal on the department’s tab.

It might be the last meeting of a federal juvenile justice committee that includes delegates from each state advisory group (SAG).

The Justice Department is required legislatively to field a group of some kind to advise the president, Congress and the administrator of OJJDP. Before 1983, the requirement was met by a national committee. That year, Congress delegated the responsibilities to an “eligible organization.”

The organization selected was the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the national membership group for the state advisory groups. CJJ was funded to develop the advice from its members until 2004, when then-OJJDP Administrator Bob Flores decided to  revert to using a committee, but the congressional directive was not changes. Until now,  FACJJ served in the advisory capacity and includes a representative of the state advisory group (SAG) in each state and territory (a total of 56 members).

The big difference between the two methods is that CJJ’s work was carried out independent of the Justice Department. FACJJ is more directly controlled by OJJDP under the rules in the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

Now, the Justice Department is dissolving FACJJ and developing a new advisory group that would include about 40 members, only 10 of whom would be from the SAGs. The other members of the group would come from … well, that remains to be determined. 

As FACJJ convened last week around its recently released annual report, the details and logistics about whatever body replaces it are still up in there air. What appears most certain, after hearing OJJDP Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski address the FACJJ, is that Justice believes the committee does not need to include representatives from each state to be representative of each state. So the theory is that the 10 SAG leaders would represent a region of states on the board.

Why the change? One FACJJ member suggested that the relationship between some FACJJ leaders and OJJDP had grown icy in the past year and had to have been a factor.

Slowikowski and Director of Federal Programs Robin Delaney-Shabazz suggested a few other reasons to the group when California delegate Sandra McBrayer dropped the “Why” bomb during last week’s meeting. The cost of hosting meetings for 56 people and producing the annual report was one reason, although as one member pointed out, there were about 40 people at this week’s meeting; the same number that would sit on the proposed new committee.

Delaney-Shabazz suggested that the annual reports had become somewhat duplicative, with the same basic recommendations emanating from FACJJ each year. Slowikowski, who earlier in the meeting described this year’s annual report as “pretty much dead on,” said the agency envisioned the new advisory body producing timely reports instead of a larger annual one, and that its focus would expand beyond state relations to OJJDP’s other programs, such as its programs or child protection divisions.

Daniel Dawson, the FACJJ member from Florida and a juvenile judge in Orange County, is not a fan of the change.

“I think it’s a huge mistake,” Dawson said at the meeting. “The current representation… even if it’s not reality, there is a perception that states have direct input.”

With states being “coerced” to comply with OJJDP requirements in order to receive funding, Dawson said, removing the 56 SAG members “could really hurt the relationship between the federal government and the states” on juvenile justice.

But no one involved appears to like the way FACJJ works. OJJDP seems to want a committee that can break into smaller groups and produce timely, issue-specific advisory pieces. If that committee can be assembled with lots of members from national organizations, many with offices in New York and Washington, it could save money too.

FACJJ members resent the control that OJJDP has over its advising process. The annual report to the president and Congress must be submitted to OJJDP, which then routes it in print form to all of the members of Congress and the president’s staff. Slowikowski said  at last week’s meeting that this process is not used by OJJDP to amend or control what is in the report.

That’s true, said one FACJJ member, but Justice exercises ultimate control over the advice-shaping process, which is more influential than making edits to a final product. Justice has final say on the agenda for FACJJ meetings, what issues will be discussed and who will be made available to speak with the committee. When a trip to a detention center was scheduled by OJJDP last year during a FACJJ session, several members chafed at spending a much of their time together on such a venture since almost every person on FACJJ has seen plenty of detention centers.

On top of this, the FACJJ members are forbidden from speaking with the media about any of the committee’s work unless the conversation goes through Justice’s communications division. One member even recalled being told not to communicate with his states’ Congressional delegation.

From FACJJ’s 2010 report to the OJJDP administrator:

The deliberate change of language to “eligible organization” of SAGs rather than “advisory committee” suggests that Congress was concerned that the states be able to offer unfettered advice to OJJDP itself, as well as to the President and the Congress. Federal advisory committees do not function in such a manner.

So what will the new committee look like? Slowikowski suggested that some new advisers could be delegates from juvenile-related subcommittees of national organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police or perhaps the National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Though helpful in diversifying the department’s pool of advisers, it could certainly lead to a list of angry organizations that do not get a fixed spot on the roster.

Another idea floated in last week’s meeting was a structure that would involve all state SAGs in subcommittees of the new advisory committee, but only 10 would be on the official committee.

This concept might get everyone what they want: OJJDP structures its new committee to produce advice for the administrator, and funds an independent organization (perhaps CJJ) to convene the SAGs and produce the advice for the president and Congress.

“I think everybody wins there,” one FACJJ member said of that scenario.