Stand-alone Juvenile Justice Agencies Dwindling in Number

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Note: This story was corrected on Saturday, Jan. 22. The original article incorrectly stated the Illinois' juvenile justice system had already merged with its child welfare agency.

The number of independent state juvenile justice agencies has dropped recently, and it is likely that 2011 will drive that figure down again.

There were 21 independent agencies in 2007, according to information collected annually by the Braintree, Mass.-based Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators. By 2009, that number had dropped to 16. New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia had all moved juvenile services within the purview of their respective social services or child welfare agencies, and New Jersey now falls with the Department of Law and Public Safety; the state's Attorney General's Office.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and the Illinois legislature separated juvenile justice from the Department of Corrections in 2008, but kept on his juvenile director, Kurt Friedenauer, to lead the new agency.

Last July, as Friedenauer resigned amidst critical media coverage of the agency, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) announced that he wanted the Department of Child and Family Services to absorb juvenile justice. Quinn named Arthur Bishop, his deputy director of field operations for DCFS, to lead the newly reconstituted juvenile justice department.

Quinn's proposal has yet to be taken up by state lawmakers, who would need to pass legislation in order for the juvenile justice department to fold into DCFS.

It looks like 2011 will see the closure of at least one independent agency: the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The department was formed in 2000 by former Gov. Jim Hunt (D) by combining the Department of Health and Human Services’ juvenile facilities and community programs with probation and other services that used to be run by the courts.

Admissions to North Carolina’s nine youth development centers (the most secure options in the state) have plummeted since. The total number of admissions was 975 in 2000; it has hovered in the 400s since 2003.

Gov. Bev Perdue (D) wants to cut down on the number of state departments to save cash in the face of a projected $3.7 billion budget shortfall for 2011. Her plan would merge the departments of Juvenile Justice, Corrections, and Crime Control and Public Safety into one entity.

Some juvenile justice advocates in North Carolina have asked Perdue to instead consider shifting the department under the control of Health and Human Services.

Most states have disconnected juvenile justice from adult corrections – only in seven states are they currently connected – and one would be hard pressed to find a juvenile justice advocate who prefers corrections control over control from human or social services.

But Perdue’s plan makes it interesting by involving the third entity, the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, which houses the Governor’s Crime Commission. The commission manages all of the federal funds coming into the state from the U.S. Department of Justice, a steady flow of dollars at a time when state resources are drying up.

A change in North Carolina would mean that one-third of the independent agencies from 2007 would have merged.