Obama Budget Dramatically Alters Rewards for Juvenile Justice Compliance

Print More

It appears from details of the budget plan that President Barack Obama is proposing to revamp significantly a mainstay of the federal juvenile justice budget: the Title II Formula Grants, which essentially reward states for adhering to basic federal standards on juvenile justice.

The formula grants, funded at $75 million in 2010, have historically provided grants to states contingent upon their compliance with the four core requirements of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Those are:

Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders: Juvenile judges cannot incarcerate juveniles who are found to have committed status offenses, a litany of actions that would not be considered crimes if the offenders were adults (truancy, incorrigibility, running away, etc.).

Jail Removal: Incarcerated juveniles cannot be locked up or held in adult jails or prisons, with rare exceptions.

Sight and Sound Separation: In the rare instances in which juveniles can be held in an adult facility, they must be kept out of sight and sound of adult inmates.

Disproportionate Minority Contact: States must attempt to assess and address differences in the ways minority youth are treated by the juvenile justice system.

Obama proposes to create a $120 million pot called Juvenile Justice System Incentive Grants. It would “consolidate funding targeting juvenile justice improvements into a competitive program that rewards or incentivizes states for progress against key indicators for the juvenile justice system.”

The key indicators a grant winner could address would include: “engagement in community-based juvenile strategic planning, implementation of evidence-based strategies and practices, employment of diversion strategies, and reduction of disproportionate minority contact.”

Only states thar “were achieving compliance with the requirements of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act” would be eligible to compete for the funds.

Obama proposes no money for the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants in his budget. He has previously asked for and received $55 million, so this is likely the funding being combined with last year’s formula grant total to create the System Incentive Grants.

This new scheme would nearly double the amount of money available to states that are JJDPA compliant. But based on the language in the budget, there is also no guarantee a state will definitely get money just for complying.

Many states use the money from the formula grants to fund the offices tasked with monitoring for compliance. If this system leaves states unsure that they can rely on federal funds every year to support compliance monitoring, it could lead to some states opting out of JJDPA.

In September, Youth Today reported that a number of states were already debating the value of participating in the act.

And if “achieving compliance with the requirements” of JJDPA means a state must meet all four to even compete, it would strip all financial incentives for compliance away from the states who routinely do not comply with at least one requirement. Of late, that list includes Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Washington and Wisconsin.