Weekly Notes: New structure for OJJDP advisory committee; a dark juvenile justice chapter ends in Florida; and more

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Hope everyone has a lovely Memorial Day weekend. JJ Today got a press release yesterday informing us that Saturday is also National Hamburger Day as well, so…make sure to celebrate that too...if you eat meat.

***Day number 858 of the Obama administration with no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Perhaps they’re waiting to announce it on National Hamburger Day? Hope not, we have big plans!

JJ Today really thought there was a chance that the White House would use this week as an opportunity to reveal a name. Members of state advisory groups (SAG) from most states, and many of the state juvenile justice specialists in charge of federal compliance, were in town for meetings with the Justice Department and for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s annual conference.

No dice, though. Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson told a lunchtime audience at the CJJ conference that there was no news yet on the administrator front.

***Here are a few notes on the juvenile justice week in Washington:

CJJ Conference: Caught a couple good sessions from the conference, including one on how a county in New York and the State of Florida curtailed the detention of status offenders. The common theme: changing the gatekeeper for status offenders from the court to someone else. 

Acting OJJDP Administrator Jeff Slowikowski followed Laurie Robinson at the CJJ lunch, and provided updates on two things:

*Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Slowikowski reaffirmed the department’s support for reauthorization, but hinted that it may not get done with the authorization amounts that were written into the Senate versions passed in recent years.

The reason: having those lines in there jacked the Congressional Budget Office score of the act up to about $4 billion. “We’re looking at how to avoid that CBO score,” Slowikowski said. The simplest alternative to specified authorizations is to simply include “such sums as necessary” in their place, which is how the current JJDPA reads and will be far less costly on a budget score.

That’s all well and good for budget maneuvering, but in the real world, a reauthorization bill will likely include a significant amount more activity and accountability on the part of the states. Juvenile justice appropriations are trending down, not up, and simply dodging a bad score will not solve the real problem: the feds and Congress continuing to play chicken with state juvenile justice systems as to how much states will agree to do with dwindling federal funds before some start to opt out of the act.

Actually, that might be a problem anyway. Those authorization amounts are nothing more than a suggested ceiling for Congressional appropriators; they have no obligation to fund at those levels.

*Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. The previous iteration of the FACJJ, comprised of a delegate from each state SAG, was disbanded after its December meeting, and Slowikowski suggested at that meeting that the new advisory committee would include regional representation of SAGs along with experts on issues of interest to OJJDP who will serve on a subcommittee handling that issue.

This week, he said the new committee would probably include 10 SAG members representing various groups of states, although OJJDP has yet to work out exactly what those state groupings will be. The agency hasn’t decided how many expert subcommittees there will be, but Slowikowski said there will almost certainly be ones focused on disproportionate minority contact, legislation, law enforcement, family issues and victimization.

Whatever the final form is, he said, the goal is for the committee’s first meeting to coincide with the week of OJJDP’s national conference in October. Which, by the way, has 1,600 expected attendees thus far with a few months left to register.

Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: The big news at the meeting was a sneak peek at a huge study that looks at the disciplinary experience of nearly 1 million Texas students. The study finds that close to 60 percent of the students in the study received an in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, were expelled or were incarcerated by the juvenile justice system. Click here for Youth Today’s coverage of the presentation on the study, which will be released in late July.

More kids than not received those punishments between seventh and 12th grade. At first blush, the figure is staggering, as it should be. But for what it’s worth, JJ Today had dinner with one CJJ conference attendee who realized during the conversation that more than half of his kids had been suspended. Yours truly was in-school suspended way back in seventh grade for sneaking out of class to go to the corner store.

Later in the meeting, Slowikowski mentioned that he expected a report made up of recommendations from the coordinating council’s four working groups to be finalized next week. This is the final product of a process in which the coordinating council’s members broke into groups that focused on education, disproportionate minority contact, tribal youth and re-entry.

The report will present recommendations on (among other things) zero tolerance policies and information sharing between systems. It will serve as an executive branch report, Slowikowski said, but that some version of it will make its way to Congress.

One side note to OJJDP on the council meeting: NO coffee? We respect the fiscal prudence in tough times, but give us a heads up so we can bring our own! It’s a three-hour meeting that can veer into monotony at times, some of us need caffeine.

*** A dark chapter appears to be at an end in Florida, where the state will close the North Florida Youth Development Center in Marianna, Fla, near the state’s border with Alabama, at the end of June. Five men, now known as the “White House Boys,” came forward in 2008 to say they had been beaten bloody at the school during the 1950s and 1960s. The admission led to hundreds more former wards alleging brutality and rape during their time in Marianna. 

To read more on this, read the excellent work done by Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore of the St. Petersburg Times. Here is their story yesterday about the closure , and here is their special report from 2009 on the White House Boys.

Meanwhile, the closure does mean that 185 juvenile justice staff at the facility are now without a job, reports Morgan Carlson of the Jackson County Floridian. The workers will be eligible for “dislocated worker” assistance from the state. 

***A decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on JDB v. North Carolina could be coming soon. The case deals with the issue of when a juvenile must be Mirandized in order for police to question him; click here and here to read our coverage of the oral arguments. The court rendered a decision yesterday in a similar case about interviewing children about child abuse allegations, Camreta v. Greene, and that case was heard by the court a few weeks before JDB v. North Carolina.