Lots at Stake as House Approps Marks Up 2012 Juvenile Justice Spending Tomorrowas

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The committee that holds the purse strings for federal juvenile justice programs is set to mark up the juvenile justice budget, which on Friday was largely gutted by a subcommittee. The House Appropriations Committee is set to vote on that proposal tomorrow at 10 a.m. 

Youth Today reported over the weekend that the Appropriation’s subcommittee on crime, justice and state recommended elimination of the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants, Title V Delinquency Prevention funds and Demonstration Programs, and proposes to cut state formula grants to half of what they were just four years ago.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) officials have been telling grantees that they are not panicked despite the funding proposal that came out of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.

Here is some news for the agency: There are plenty of other people panicking.

House Republicans are determined to reduce the size of the federal commitment to domestic spending. The Obama administration showed in negotiations on the 2011 fiscal budget that it was willing to deal on massive spending cuts, and has already hinted at amenability to cutting the general social safety net again in fiscal 2012. The Senate has historically been a better friend to juvenile justice when it comes to money, but there is only so much it can do.

To start with level funding from an appropriations subcommittee in such a climate would be worrisome. To begin the process with a massive cut could be an extinction level event for OJJDP.  Indeed, Republican plans to gut juvenile justice funding have spawned rumors that the administration could decide to consolidate various agencies in the Justice Department and end the austere existence of a juvenile justice department

The full impact of just major cuts is not known. This is what is known:

 ·        There is no dedicated money for states to spend on youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system. States can use some of the $70 million from the Second Chance Act to work on reentry for juvenile offenders and some of the $40 million in drug court money to reach juveniles, but the majority of both pots will target adults.

In the final 2011 program plan published by OJJDP last week, the agency said of the feedback it received after its proposed 2011 plan, “more than a third of the comments dealt with some aspect of improving conditions in juvenile facilities for youth with disabilities and mental health issues.” Meanwhile, mentoring, which just four fiscal years ago was funded at $10 million, gets $83 million. Missing and Exploited Children gets $70 million.

 ·        States will be more likely to drop out of compliance with the JJDPA. Eighty percent of the $40 million in formula grants are contingent upon states staying in compliance with the four core protections of the JJDPA. The funding is divvied up based on population, but there is a minimum allocation for the 20 smallest states that is dictated by the appropriation for the total amount.

Even before formula grants were chopped in the 2011 deal, states were chafing at the amount of work it took to monitor JJDPA standards and remain in compliance. Will this cut to half of what was spent as recently as 2007, push some states to stop participating?

If the answer is yes, the answer to “which states?” might depend on how OJJDP decides to manage the funding cut. The agency can lower the minimum allocation below $600,000 if it receives less than $75 million for formula grants; that happened in 2011, but OJJDP chose to keep the minimum allocation in place and make the larger states absorb the cuts.

If the minimums are held with a $40 million appropriation, the grants to more populous states will look awfully small. If the minimums are lowered, those smaller states might start to wonder if the formula money is worth the work.

 ·        Community programs will be shuttered, especially in rural counties. States use their Juvenile Accountability Block Grants for a variety of purposes, but most often the funds make their way to juvenile courts or county systems in the state to use for diversion programs, community alternatives and other ventures that might not be funded by the state. In Georgia, State Specialist Joe Vignati said the $1.3 million usually pumps between $3,000 and $10,000 into about 140 programs.

“Diversion for kids, psychiatric services, counseling, brief psych evaluations,”     Vignati listed by way of example of what the money pays for. “Whatever courts need to help purchase services to avoid commitment. The state doesn’t pony up for those services, so this is crippling.”

 ·        Juvenile Justice research will be in jeopardy. We haven’t traced the source of all the juvenile research projects. But there are two big ones operated via OJJDP grant by the National Center for Juvenile Justice: The National Juvenile Justice Data Analysis Program, which among other things pays for the Statistical Briefing Book, and the National Juvenile Court Data Archive. They will both be paid for in 2011 out of the OJJDP Demonstration Programs Division. If demonstration programs are zeroed out, either Justice would have to find money outside of OJJDP or work on both projects could end, at least temporarily.