Weekly Notes: PREA Rules and Juveniles; State of the Union; a call on administration to fill OJJDP job

Print More

***The Justice Department issued proposed rules and standards this week for the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which was passed in 2003 to help protect inmates from sexual assaults.

Here is a quick timeline on the recent history of this process. The National PREA Commission submitted recommended standards to Justice in June of 2009. The department started soliciting feedback for the rule back in March of 2010, and in May, several juvenile advocates took the department up on that solicitation.

Technically, a final rule was due in June of 2010, so the process is a bit behind schedule. There is a mandatory 60-day window for interested parties to submit comments on this proposed rule, after which Justice can finalize PREA standards.

Justice seems pretty intent on getting a fresh round of feedback on this, because there are 64 different questions posed to potential respondents along with the rule itself. Questions 36 and 37 pertain directly to juveniles who are incarcerated or detained in adult facilities:

36) Should the final rule include a standard that governs the placement of juveniles in adult facilities?

37) If so, what should the standard require, and how should it interact with the

current JJDPA [Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act] requirements and penalties?

The proposed rules do not include any regulation that specifically deals with juveniles locked up in adult jails and prisons, so feedback on these questions will likely be the only way Justice is compelled to change that. The first round of comments yielded suggestions that juveniles be banned from adult facilities entirely, or that JJDPA regulations regarding contact with adults also apply to juveniles transferred to adult courts (right now, they only apply to juveniles who are tried in juvenile court).

The way those two questions are posed, it seems that Justice is seeking comment on how to apply JJDPA. The department received recommendations for a ban during the first comment period, and it would seem that if the department was by that argument it would have included a ban in this proposal. It seems that officials want to get thoughts on how exactly to impose sight and sound protections afforded under JJDPA to youths who are convicted in adult court. 

There are 216 pages to this proposal, so JJ Today will follow up with more on the actual provisions concerning juvenile facilities next week.

***Watched the State of the Union on Tuesday. You aren’t going to believe this: not one single mention of juvenile justice!

However, there were two parts of the speech that may very well affect the federal funding for juvenile justice. The first was Obama’s proposed discretionary spending freeze over the next five years; the second was his declaration that he’d veto any bill that arrived on his desk with earmarks in it.

We find the spending freeze to be a fascinating gambit. It’s not an idea that warms the heart of most liberal-minded individuals, and it’s no secret that the youth work and advocacy field is teeming with such persons. But Republicans have indicated they would like to revert to 2008 spending levels for 2011 and 2012.

Obama’s concept, theoretically, locks in 2010 levels all the way to 2016, which would seriously hinder any attempt to lobby for increased spending on most youth services during his presidency. On the other hand, if he got Congress to buy into that, it would essentially be trading the prospect of increasing domestic spending for the prevention of taking it back to 2008 levels. Can Republicans really balk at that notion without looking like they passed on a Democratic president’s offer to freeze spending?

The earmark stand may not actually affect the total amount spent on juvenile justice, because earmarks to Justice funds are mostly carved out of discretionary accounts, as opposed to being tacked on to them. But keeping earmarks out of the OJJDP funding, particularly the demonstration programs, gives the agency a chance to make a more coherent effort at conducting large-scale projects. For example, an earmark-free year might give OJJDP the ability to put some real money behind a juvenile defender project.

***Speaking of OJJDP, this week is the two year anniversary of Obama’s inauguration. After several rounds of interviews and vetting, and countless columns of rumor-mongering on this website, there is still no nominee to lead the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The Campaign for Youth Justice posted a note this week on a website called Change.org that asked people to write to their senator about the vacancy.

The juvenile justice atmosphere over the past two years in Washington has been similar to a balloon left out in the backyard after a birthday party. When Obama was elected in November of 2008, the balloon was full of air: Hundreds of people packed a forum to discuss JJ ideas with Obama’s mentor, Charles Ogletree; reauthorization of the JJDPA was all but a foregone conclusion in the minds of many; and there was excitement about the prospects for a high-profile OJJDP administrator.

Today: JJDPA is a long shot to be addressed this year. The prospects for another major piece of JJ legislation, the Youth PROMISE Act, are equally dim. And there isn’t even a nominee for OJJDP.

The withering balloon is stuck in a tree, slowly losing air.

***That’s a depressing note to go out on, so: Happy one year anniversary to Connecticut and Illinois! Both states upped their respective ages of jurisdiction last year, which meant that 17-year-olds in Illinois and 16-year-olds in Connecticut would no longer be automatically considered adults. Neither state experienced much turbulence as a result of the change, which bodes well for similar efforts to raise the age in New York and North Carolina.

It seems like there might never be a better time for New York, which considers anyone over 15 to be an adult, to include more teens in the juvenile justice system. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) indicated in his recent State of the State speech that consolidations and closures would occur with some of the state’s juvenile facilities, many of which are between half empty and empty. He will be under political pressure to keep as many open as possible, though, because facilities mean jobs.

Including more teens in the juvenile justice system provides an actual rationale for keeping the lights on in more of these locations …assuming the state ends the type of rampant abuse found by the Justice Department at some New York facilities.