Weekly Notes: Recidivism apples vs. Recidivism oranges; juvenile justice and the 2011 budget deal; guide to for-profit colleges; and more

Print More

***The staff at Youth Today has been hard at work finishing up our April print issue, which by the way include our first ever Guide to For-Profit Colleges. Permit a quick plug for that guide here:

For-profit, online and career colleges are a subject of much controversy in Washington these days. On the one hand, they are often expensive, leave students with a lot of debt, and account for a huge amount of federally-guaranteed loans. The Obama administration, and some in Congress, are unhappy with their recruiting practices and outcomes (as in, how many students graduate and how many can pay back their loans).

On the other hand, the schools have almost no barriers to entry, which means a lot of students can attend them who might not otherwise take classes. They are also able to adapt to trends better than traditional schools, and develop curricula and certifications for sectors that are hiring.

Youth Today wanted to create a guide that could help youth workers assist teens and young adults in making informed decisions about what they are signing up for when they agree to attend a for-profit college. The guide will be available as a pull-out in our April edition and, soon after, on our website.

Without any hard numbers to support this, JJ Today is guessing that these types of schools are often a last, best resort for youths and young adults with criminal backgrounds. So, we hope, this guide can help the adults in their lives lead them to a smart decision.

***This op-ed, reprinted by the Community Justice Network for Youth, originally ran in the South Bend Tribune. Indiana’s juvenile recidivism rate is 35 percent, the editorial said, and a mentoring program for low-level offenders posted a recidivism rate of 11 percent.

Its motivation is virtuous: promotion of mentoring programs as a way to help steer some juvenile offenders away from repeating their mistakes. It also provides a nice summary of how inappropriately “recidivism rate” is used.

JJ Today looked to find the source for the state recidivism rate, and found a 2007 report from the state corrections agency that shows a 36 percent rate for 2008. Perhaps the editorial board had a more current version, but we could not find anything that shows a drop of 1 percent.

The state’s 2008 calculation is based on the fact that 1,493 juveniles were released from juvenile facilities in 2005, 536 of them (36 percent) returned to the corrections department by 2008.

The recidivism rate touted by the mentoring program: Of the youth who participated between August of 2008 and July of 2009, only 11 percent reported a return to delinquency in 2009.

We’re not challenging the veracity of the 11 percent figure, or the quality of the mentoring program. We are just pointing out that a program’s one-year recidivism rate can hardly to be compared with the department of corrections’ three-year juvenile recidivism rate.

If 30 percent of the mentored low-level offenders report re-offending in three years, but only 11 percent re-offend within a year, is the program bad?

If only 11 percent of DOC’s wards were back in custody within a year, but 36 percent were back after three, is DOC doing a good job?

If the mentoring program worked with the type of juvenile offenders who typically get locked up in a facility – instead of low-level offenders – would the program’s recidivism rate still be 11 percent?

A consistent measure of recidivism can be a good measure of a single venture – be it incarceration, a mentoring program or a day reporting center – over time. And someday soon, perhaps, a federally funded project will produce some recommendations for how to measure it consistently.

It’s much murkier when you start comparing two completely different juvenile justice-related ventures. It’s like comparing an apple to an orange just because they’re in the same basket of fruit.

***After many a continuing resolution, and coming within a day of a federal shutdown three times, Congress has finally passed a spending bill for 2011.  

You can read our analysis of how youth spending did here, and Child Welfare League of America provided a nice chart of it here. Most of the enormous cuts to youth programs passed in the original House proposal, H.R. 1, were averted.

Juvenile justice? Not so much.

The budget was cut from $423 million in 2010 to $275 for 2011, a difference of $148 million. Most of it is elimination of the $91 million for demonstration programs, which – as usual – was almost entirely earmarked by Congress in 2010.

Youth Today, in particular our Founder, Bill Treanor, has frequently opined against the earmarks in the juvenile justice appropriations. It’s not because all of them are terrible projects, because most are not. It was because the demonstration grants funding, if it was managed right, could really give the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention a chance to do coherent, strategic endeavors.

Instead of $91 million to whoever could get a piece of it out of their local appropriator, that pot of money could fund a huge initiative to improve educational services for juvenile offenders. Or it could be used to beef up after-school activities for older teens. Whatever.

So, to shrug off the cut of that $91 million is a mistake. It was never the money that should have gone away; just the earmarks. But the fate of the demonstration program line was doubly sealed by the history of pork projects and the fact that, for the past two years, President Obama has zeroed it out of his budget proposal (because of the fact that it was always earmarked).

Anyway, that leaves another $57 million in cuts, and nobody is quite clear where those will be made. The two likeliest scenarios are across-the-board cuts to all OJJDP programs, or that it will come almost entirely out of mentoring.

Our best guess is the latter. It looks like, wherever Obama proposed a steep cut or cancellation in his 2012 proposal, the 2011 budget deal followed suit and simply advanced that notion by a year. There was $100 million for mentoring in 2010, and Obama has it slated for $45 million in 2012.

***The first 2011 meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was scheduled for April 29, but then was cancelled due to the federal budget crisis. The coordinating council includes delegates from other domestic agencies along with some practitioner members from the youth work field.

Still no word on what OJJDP will do to replace the other formal body that it consults with, the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which was disbanded after its final meeting in December 2010. FACJJ consisted of a member from each state advisory group.

The Justice Department is required legislatively to field a group of some kind to advise the president, Congress and the administrator of OJJDP. At the final meeting of FACJJ, acting administrator of OJJDP Jeff Slowikowski hinted that whatever replaced FACJJ would include some members of state advisory groups, and some experts on specific issues related to juvenile justice. No word yet on a specific plan for this advisory body, though.

***JJ Today didn’t catch wind of this until recently, but the MIT Press Journal Daedalus is offering a free download of Jeffrey Fagan’s 2010 piece, “The Contradictions of Juvenile Crime and Punishment.” The offer expires on Sunday, so click here to download it.

***Day number 816 without a nominee from the Obama Administration to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.