Weekly Notes: “Social Bonds” for juvenile justice, Luzerne update, and funding from Labor for juveniles

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***President Barack Obama’s budget will be the major domestic headline early next week. The proposal will be released on Monday.

In a column on Tuesday, New York Times economics reporter David Leonhardt revealed a small but significant piece that will be included in the budget, which he learned about from a White House official: a $100 million pot dedicated for what is known as “social bonds.”

[Thanks, by the way, to the ever-watchful eye of Reclaiming Futures Everyday blogger Ben Chambers for catching this and sending it over to us.]

It’s the latest twist on social entrepreneurship. Under the proposed program, a government agency would be able to reimburse social program entrepreneurs if the programs they under take meet certain benchmarks. For more details, click here.

By way of explanation of social bonds, consider this hypothetical: A foundation and some social venture capitalists, along with a workforce development program, get together to propose an $8 million program to connect laid off workers to new careers.  

If the program met some specified benchmark – say, placement of 70 percent of workers who signed up – the government would reimburse the $8 million, with interest. In a British experiment with social bonds, Leonhardt reported, a high achievement on benchmarks would yield an additional return on investment over the interest.

For the feds, and the taxpayers, the advantage to this is obvious. It allows social program experimentation, but puts the risk on the private partners, because the government doesn’t way unless it works. It’s the opposite of the current way of funding such experimental programs, where the government incurs the costs, regardless of whether a program works.

Why do we mention this here? Because buried in Leonhardt’s piece he says the Obama’s budget including $100 million to fund seven pilot programs in, “among other areas, job training, education, juvenile justice and care of children’s disabilities.”

Hey now!

There are a number of foundations that might get involved in a social bond: Casey and MacArthur are the obvious national funders, along with the Public Welfare Foundation, although its JJ portfolio is rooted more in advocacy than direct service. Then there are a few local funders, such as Connecticut’s Tow Foundation, that could back such a venture.

The question is, what juvenile justice strategies or aspects most align with firm performance benchmarks? JJ Today will continue reporting on this, but these are some  initial guesses:

Education: a project that seeks either to improve academics within a juvenile facility, re-connect juveniles to the school system, or both. Benchmarks could be grade advancement, graduation or GED obtainment.

Re-entry: Assisting juveniles coming out of facilities with the transition. This might entail a wide array of services, but the benchmark probably would be recidivism. OJJDP expressed some interest in developing a national recidivism measure during the Bush administration; not sure what the status of that project is.

Substance abuse: Either diverting drug-addicted youths from the system entirely, or helping serious offenders address substance abuse problems. Perhaps the best fit, because drug testing is a pretty finite measurement: you were on drugs, you do the program, you either test positive or not.

***The House Appropriations Committee’s list of proposed cuts for the rest of 2011 makes the President’s budget all the more important to juvenile justice advocates. The committee put out a partial list of cuts this week that it wants for this year, and it includes a small cut of $2.3 million to juvenile justice appropriations. Not a catastrophe in and of itself, except for the momentum effect: appropriations that move backward tend to stay headed in that direction.

A deeper cut of $256 million is proposed to “state and local law enforcement,” which presumably will come out of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG). If that cut is made to the state side of the JAG grants, as opposed to the local side, it creates yet another snag for the Justice Department’s efforts to get states compliant with the Adam Walsh Act, which requires states to create a sex offender registry that includes juveniles and connects to the national sex offender registry. The grants for each state already are pretty meager. And the penalty for not complying with the Walsh Act is a 10 percent cut in those grants. It could be that there will be nothing to take 10 percent of.

***The Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) issued a solicitation for $20 million in grant funds authorized by the Workforce Investment Act for Civic Justice Corps Grants, which would serve juvenile offenders between 18 and 24 who have been involved with the juvenile justice system within 12 months before entry into the program.

The plan is to give out about 13 grants of as much as $1.5 million each, and the money could be used for a whole slew of services related to vocational education, substance abuse treatment or community service. Any proposed project has to tie in with the area juvenile correctional facilities and the One-Stop Career Centers.

The age range of 18 to 24 favors states or systems that keep offenders in the custody of a juvenile justice system into their early adult years. California, for example, can keep an offender locked up until age 25 for certain crimes. Washington, D.C.’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services can be responsible for a juvenile until he turns 21.

Juvenile offenders would be eligible if they have been:

* Under the supervision of the juvenile justice system either in out-of-home placements or on probation or parole.

* Given an alternative sentence by the juvenile justice system.

* Placed in a diversion program as an alternative to juvenile prosecution by the juvenile justice system.

***Luzerne Update! The trial of Mark Ciavarella, the Luzerne County juvenile judge who allegedly helped steer the creation of for-profit juvenile detention centers and then filled them with youths, is underway. This is the criminal proceeding; a class-action lawsuit on behalf of juveniles placed in the centers by Ciavarella will follow.

The Associated Press piece on yesterday’s testimony in the case included these two paragraphs. “Powell” is Robert Powell, a lawyer and co-owner of the PA Child Care detention center, who testified against Ciavarella this week:

Under cross-examination, Powell acknowledged that PA Child Care had a 20-year agreement with Luzerne County that guaranteed the company would be paid $2.9 million annually, regardless of how many juveniles it housed. Ciavarella has vigorously denied that there was a relationship between the payments he received and the children he sent to PA Child Care.

"You were guaranteed that payment whether Mark Ciavarella sent one kid there, 100 kids there or no kids there?" defense attorney Al Flora asked Powell. Powell agreed.

When it comes time for civil litigation, this will be a major point. Ciavarella appears ready to argue that his placement of children in the detention center had nothing to do with whatever nefarious business arrangements took place to get the detention center built.

A brief filed by prosecutors in May of 2010 suggests they intend to prove otherwise. From the May brief:

Testimony at trial will establish that in approximately February 2003, one or more juvenile probation officers for Luzerne County were summoned to Mark Ciavarella Jr.’s office and put on the telephone with Michael Conahan. Michael Conahan expressed displeasure with delays in admissions of juvenile offenders to PA Child Care. Thereafter, weekly reports were often provided to Mark Ciavarella Jr. indicating the number of beds utilized at PA Child Care. On a number of occasions, probation officers developed non-custodial treatment plans for juvenile offender, which were rejected by Mark Ciavarella, Jr. in favor of custodial dispositions.

Testimony will establish that Mark Ciavarella Jr. and others acting at his behest, exerted pressure on Probation Office staff to recommend detention of juvenile offenders. On some occasions, probation officers were pressured to change recommendations of release to recommendations of detention.

Another paragraph on a 2001 meeting, also from the brief, regarding the detention centers:

During this visit, Conahan indicated to Powell that Ciavarella was going to have to be compensated in connection with the facility. Powell understood Conahan to mean that Conahan and Ciavarella wanted money in exchange for Conahan’s assistance in closing the county-run detention facility and in exchange for Ciavarella making sure that the facility was kept full of juvenile offenders.

If the prosecution can prove these conversations took place, it would be a huge boon for the lawyers who seek damages on behalf of juveniles in civil court.