Weekly Notes: Interesting research on private justice funding; Iraq’s juvenile justice system; upcoming events; and more

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***Notes is back after a one-week hiatus brought on by, of all things, a website hacker. When we opened up the Youth Today website on Friday, we found half of the website basically empty, and all of our photos and images replaced by Osama bin Laden. Yikes! All seems to be in order now.

***A group called the Criminal Justice Funders Network issued a report called “Transcending Boundaries: Strengthening Impact.” It is based largely on a survey of foundations that fund criminal- and juvenile justice-related projects, and justice organizations that receive funds from foundations.

We’ll definitely get into this report more soon, because there are some pretty interesting findings in here. Some headlines:

*Half of the 59 funders reported that their average justice-related grant was less than $75,000

*Justice-related funding is pretty low on the philanthropic food chain, but it is stable during good and bad economic times.

*Justice organizations depend heavily on foundations: two-thirds get no money from the government, about the same percentage get no money from corporate America and just under half receive no funds from their own income-generating activities.

***Heard this today: The America Bar Association is working on a state-by-state analysis of collateral consequences experienced by juvenile offenders. That term refers to anything that occurs after and in addition to the punishment doled out to juveniles by a judge. Some examples: placement on a public sex offender registry, publicly available criminal records and expulsion from a school district.

This will be a major report, because it is probably the first time in history that anyone will have a national view of how differently juvenile offenders are handled post-disposition.

***Check out part one and part two of the Youth Today interview with Bryan Samuels, who is Obama's top man on child welfare. Most of the discussion focuses on child welfare policy and issues in the field, but Samuels also discussed school violence with us, and why he thinks that state and county juvenile justice and child welfare agencies should be separate.

***We had the honor this week of speaking to a group of Iraqi officials who are in the United States to learn about our juvenile justice system, in the hopes of heading home with ideas on how to improve their own. Their meeting right before was with former OJJDP Administrator Shay Bilchik.

One official asked how we handle juveniles in the aftermath of a natural or manmade disaster; in essence, how would we deal with youth who were committing crimes, and then were discovered to have lost their parents and/or whole family during a national catastrophe? I couldn’t think of many situations like that except Hurricane Katrina. Lots of older teens returned to the city before their families, one New Orleans judge told me back in 2006, and some turned to crime.

The official explained that this was their NUMBER ONE juvenile justice problem in Iraq. There are thousands of young people, some of them homeless, who resort to crime for survival because their parents were killed in the war.

It’s hard to imagine a more important place to have a strategy for positively influencing delinquent teens. How hard would it be for terrorist groups or militias to recruit young men who are already to the point where they are becoming criminals to survive?

***A quick reminder of some juvenile justice events coming up in the near future:

-May 20-24, Washington: Coalition for Juvenile Justice Annual Spring Conference and Council of SAGs’ Meeting. This year’s theme is Fair & Equal Justice: Alternative Sentences and Sanctions for Youth.

-May 23, Washington: Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Sometimes these can be a snoozefest. But the agenda for this meeting includes a session on school discipline and alternatives to zero tolerance policies, as well as an update on the reports of the council’s working groups on re-entry, Native American youth, disproportionate minority contact and education. Early on in the process, those groups were throwing around some pretty interesting ideas, so JJ Today is interested to see what the final product looks like.

-June 7-9, Las Vegas: Global Youth Justice 1st International Training Institute, which will teach attendees how to establish and operate youth courts as diversion programs. 

-July 24-27, New York: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Annual Conference.

***Day number 844 of the Obama administration with no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. A group of Congressmen - Democrats Bobby Scott (Va.), John Conyers (Mich.), Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.), along with Republican Todd Platts (Pa.) - are hoping that a letter-writing campaign, which ends today, will push the White House to make a choice. An excerpt from their letter:

“We are writing today to respectfully request that you select a strong nominee for the position of Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) as soon as possible. As we are over halfway through the current Presidential term, we are distressed by the lack of a nominee and would like to schedule a meeting with you or a surrogate to discuss the issue.

“…Yet by selecting an effective and committed nominee for OJJDP Administrator right away, we believe you have the opportunity to prioritize a national juvenile justice agenda that not only keeps youth safe but builds on cost-effective programs that have been shown to reduce juvenile delinquency. We know what works to improve outcomes: evidenced-based strategies that prevent juvenile delinquency and that provide for right-sizing the numbers and types of juveniles placed in the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems so that all youth get an appropriate, cost-effective, and meaningful response to their involvement with these systems. Accordingly, we need your leadership and an effective OJJDP Administrator in order to reverse course and invest in proven strategies.

***And here is an excerpt from a letter written by Lillian Tillman from Germantown, Tenn., which was shared with JJ Today by Eric Solomon of the Campaign for Youth Justice. It is a tribute to all of the mothers whose sons are in adult prison. Whatever you think of the practice of adult transfers, and regardless of the fact that not all moms are created equal in the parenting department, it’s important to remember that there is no parent on Earth who wishes the deprivation of freedom upon their children. From Tillman:

I dedicate this letter to my son Chris J. Meadoux, and to all of the mothers who are enduring the heartache of having a child or children serving time behind the prison walls.

I write to you with encouragement from my heart, to never give up on the most precious gift God has given to each of us, our children. Mothers are nurturers and care givers, and it is the most heartbreaking situation when we cannot care for our children. To go through each day not knowing what is happening to my son, or how he is coping mentally gives me a since of helplessness, void and empty because I can't reach out to him like a mother does to her children.

I will say, I am very proud of my son. After his sentencing in August of 2008, he managed to study and received his G.E.D in February of 2009. He sent me his diploma along with other certificates he achieved, and like any proud mother of their children, I framed it. He has also received certificates for scoring high grades, as well as for his participation in class, which his teacher was proud of as well. She advised him to take college courses; but, because he is in an adult facility, he is unable to do so.

We all have the ability to change. My son has stood stronger than I'd ever imagine. He is my inspiration. As mothers we know our children’s strengths and weaknesses, but I would have never imagined seeing my son in prison and raising himself. He has encouraged me and has said to me, “Momma, don't put your life on hold because of me.” I know he says these things so I don't worry about him, but it's our nature as mothers to be concerned for our children’s well-being and safety.

In closing, as a mother of an incarcerated child, it breaks my heart daily, but God is all of our strength. We nurture our children as we carry them in our womb, and it’s something no one can ever take away from us. Every day is Mother's Day. I have always told my children from the day of their birth, I love them, hug and kiss them and cradle them in my arms. I long await for my child’s release, God has already given him life, that is where my Faith rests, in God.