Weekly Notes: New juvenile justice leadership in states; Walsh Act workshop; Scared Straight episode 2; and more

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***Yesterday, we covered structural changes to a number of the independent state JJ agencies over the past three years. Another big change we’re keeping an eye on around the country is juvenile justice leadership. There were 28 new governors sworn in this January, many of whom are members of a different party than the previous dweller of the governor’s mansion.

Naturally, at least some of the new governors want their own person in place on juvenile justice, and already a number of new leaders have been appointed in the past few months. What JJ Today knows about thus far:

Florida: Embattled Department of Juvenile Justice Director Frank Peterman, to the surprise of nobody, resigned before the New Year. New Gov. Rick Scott (R) has tapped Miami’s juvenile justice boss, Wansley Walters, to head up DJJ.

Walters was at one point a serious candidate for the top job at the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. It will be interesting to watch her first year on the job, because Walters and many others at the county/city level have chafed at the costs involved in working with the DJJ-run facilities.

Kansas: Russell Jennings (director since 2007) helped out the transition team for Gov. Sam Brownback (R). But ultimately, Brownback tapped Wichita businessman Curtis Whitten to take Jennings place at the top of the Juvenile Justice Authority.

Whitten is CEO of VendTech Enterprise, which provides security and conducts background investigations for commercial and government facilities. He serves on the Kansas African-American Affairs Commission and the governor's task force on racial profiling.

New York: Joyce Burrell (2007) is leaving New York to work on juvenile justice and education issues for the D.C.-based American Institute for Research. Burrell was an influential number two to Office of Child and Family Services Commissioner Gladys Carrion.

New Mexico: Deb Pritchard (2008), who led juvenile justice services for the Children, Youth and Families Department, left in December and has yet to be replaced. CYFD has a new leader though: Yolanda Berumen-Deines, a former Texas social worker whose advocacy for children in court inspired a young Susana Martinez to become a lawyer. Martinez, a former district attorney for Doña Ana County, was elected governor of New Mexico in November.

Mississippi: The word is that Division of Youth Services Director Kathy Pittman (2004) will retire within a year.

Georgia: Over the summer, longtime Department of Juvenile Justice director Albert Murray (2004) was named by former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) to the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Perdue then named a member of the pardon and parole board, Rev. Garland Hunt, to replace Murray.

New Gov. Nathan Deal (R) decided not to retain Hunt’s services. He promoted Amy Howell, deputy commissioner of DJJ, to the top job, making her the first female to hold that position in Georgia. Click here for a Q&A with Howell conducted by the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, which is based at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University.

South Carolina: Popular juvenile justice boss and former judge Bill Byars (2003) is widely credited with moving the state out of federal oversight. He certainly impressed new Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who nominated him to lead the Department of Corrections for her administration. South Carolina promoted Byars’ second-in-command, Margaret Barber, to lead the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Connecticut: Former judge Leo Arnone (2007) remains as the official principally focused on juvenile justice for the Department of Children and Families. But Arnone has a new boss at DCF: former state supreme court justice Joette Katz. Katz has voiced an interest in keeping more youths at home on the dependency side of the agency, but it is yet to be seen whether she will push for a change in the calculus on juvenile justice.

Maryland: Donald DeVore (2007), who preceded Arnone in Connecticut before leaving to take the Maryland job, stepped down in November. Re-elected Gov. Martin O’Malley has yet to nominate a replacement for him.

Know of any other JJ leadership changes? Let us know!

***Meanwhile, in Washington, it is pretty safe to say juvenile justice is at a standstill. JJ Today is hearing that the advocacy community, and congressional supporters in turn, have back-burnered reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and are focusing efforts on maintaining the fiscal 2010 funding levels in 2011 and 2012.

That is probably a smart move, because the beefed-up JJDPA would require more on the part of the states. If that somehow passed, but state formula funds stayed the same or declined, our information suggests that you could see a number of states give up on participation. From what we hear, there are a few states that might even go that route regardless of reauthorization or funding declines.

As for the OJJDP administrator: Have not heard anything substantive since we reported that Massachusetts juvenile justice director Jane Tewksbury was a serious candidate. That was October! The month before, we mentioned another name that appeared to have some traction with the Justice Department: California Judge Kurt Kumli.

You have to think the long delay does not bode well for either of them. It is well known that the initial ambition was to nominate a minority candidate for this job, and preferably a woman. It could be that while Justice might be comfortable with Tewskbury or Kumli (they are both white), the White House is still adamant about having a person of color at OJJDP.

***The Office of Justice Programs hosted a training last week on the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act aspects of the Adam Walsh Act. Click here for a copy of the agenda to see what was discussed. The main subjects: cost of implementing; consequences for missing the July deadline for Walsh Act compliance; and how to handle information-sharing between states when sex offenders travel.

The national workshop, held in Washington, coincided with the announcement from Justice that the supplemental guidelines on SORNA had been finalized. Unfortunately, the event also coincided with the nation getting drubbed by snow storms, which kept a lot of potential attendees from making it into D.C.

*** Here is a heads up on another Justice Department event. The 2011 National Gang Symposium, entitled Progress Through Partnerships, will take place June 7–10 in Orlando, Fla. The symposium is sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Gang Center.

***Watched episode two of Beyond Scared Straight last night. It is really easy to see why the show is getting tons of viewers; it is extremely compelling to watch these young men absorb what the inside of Maryland’s Jessup correctional facility was like.

It is just impossible to tell, past what the youths say into the camera, how much impact it has. The follow-up after the prison visit films the youths one month later, and there is a two-month epilogue of sorts for each one as well.

A number of the youths in last night’s episode had experienced success recently: two were involved in Job Corps; one showed up for a job interview, telling cameras he was done with “the life”; another graduated high school.

There is no indication of chronology here, but it’s hard to believe all of them started down those paths only after the scared straight program. And even it that was the case, it’s just patently absurd to claim a youth as a success story after a month or two of good decision-making.

On the other hand, it is not necessarily the case that scared straight “fails” for any kid who offends after he participated in it, which is what the meta-analyses of scared straight focused on.

If a youth who routinely dealt drugs and stole cars went through a program (scared straight or any other)…then got arrested five months later for drug possession…then never got arrested again and went on to become a janitor and raise three kids…did the services afforded him “fail?” Most people would agree they did not, and yet drug possession would put him in the re-offend category for measurement purposes.

That’s not an endorsement of scared straight, just an observation on the measurement upon which it has been condemned in research. Click here to learn about another reason why recidivism, in and of itself, may not be enough to measure the success of scared straight or any other program.