Weekly Notes: Agenda for Juvenile Woodstock; NYC’s plan for young minority men; Walsh Act update; and more

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***Day 925 of the Obama administration and still no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

JJ Today is no longer alone in publicizing the absence of a nominated leader for the agency. Three major papers in the last month have produced editorials calling for Obama to make a choice: the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.  

***In other OJJDP news, the agency published an agenda for the 2011 National Conference for Children’s Justice & Safety, aka Juvenile Woodstock. Not having a nominee on hand for this soiree would be like holding the original Woodstock without Jimi Hendrix, by the way.

Click here to read the agenda. The first two days will be mostly grantee meetings with organizations involved in OJJDP-funded projects, along with some training for compliance monitors. There are also a few pre-conference “Learning Labs” available to all conference attendees on subjects including girls in the system and the nexus of juvenile justice, mental health and trauma.

The conference starts on Wednesday, Aug. 12. These are among the sessions that immediately piqued our interest:

-Falling through the cracks: serving youth with sexual behavior problems;

-Four communities respond to children’s exposure to violence;

-Responding to the legal needs of children and     

-The invisible population: mothers in the juvenile justice system.

The strangest title among the planned sessions is “The West Side Story project: Using this timeless musical to address youth violence, youth-police relations, and cultural differences.”

***New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might be the politician from this decade who is most remembered for contributions to youth services. In his three terms as mayor, he has taken on massive school reform and restructured his child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Not everyone has liked everything, but it would be hard to find anyone who is more responsible for rethinking how a population treats its disadvantaged youth.

Now it appears one of Bloomberg’s final projects will be an initiative that seeks to develop the academic and employment prospects of young black and Latino men in New York. He will get it done in a way that few politicians could: by paying for part of it out of his own foundation.

Bloomberg’s personal foundation will foot $30 million of the Young Men’s Initiative’s $127 million bill; billionaire buddy George Soros will match it, and the city will pay the rest.

Bloomberg’s plan involves specifically targeting minority men for extra services in four priority areas. Education, family health and employment are three; the fourth is criminal and juvenile justice.

“One of the most disheartening statistics I’ve ever heard is that three out of every four young men who leave Rikers Island return to Rikers Island,” said Bloomberg, referring to the city’s infamous prison, in an address during which he unveiled the initiative. “Unfortunately, the things that we know will help people with criminal records to turn the page – a job, a home, a connection to a community –  are the very things that are harder to access if you’ve been convicted of a crime.”

Among the justice-related aspects of the initiative are $18 million to fund literacy and mentoring services for young offenders coming out of the adult system, which in New York includes everyone over the age of 15, and $6 million to pilot some alternatives programs for 100 juvenile offenders who would otherwise be detained.

One of Bloomberg’s advisers in the development of the initiative – Pedro Noguera, New York University professor and author of “The Trouble with Black Boys” – told Lisa Fleisher of the Wall Street Journal he was disappointed that the initiative did not end up addressing the “stop and frisk” policies of the New York City Police Department. This is a common practice in New York where officers will stop people, based on the lesser standard of reasonable suspicion instead of probable cause, and pat them down. Sometimes it leads to arrests for weapons or drug possession.

As documented in this research is this supposed to be a link? by Columbia University law professor Jeffrey Fagan, “stop and frisk” happens disproportionately to minority men. A 16-  to 19-year-old black male in New York has an 80 percent chance of getting stopped and frisked during those years of his life, according to Fagan’s research. Latino teens have a 38 percent chance, and whites have a 10 percent chance. Nobody even keeps track of how often it happens to youths under age 16.

“What the data is showing, the overwhelming majority of those who are stopped and frisked — and I think in many cases illegally searched — are black and Latino males,” Noguera told Fleisher. “And in some cases that results in arrests, but in many cases it just results in harassment and an initial encounter with the police that is unpleasant to say the least.”

The Young Men’s Initiative is being funded for three years, and it probably will be several more years before anyone can measure its impact on the minority youth of New York. If the impact is substantial – and in a time when city services are being chopped down around this initiative, that’s a big “if” – it carries two huge potential implications for youth services:

1) A taxpayer-funded plan that singles out minority youth and young adults for special treatment can have a net positive impact for everyone (especially if it helps improve overall public safety figures).

2) Bloomberg and Soros could open the door to a new class of “leverage philanthropists,” who actually invoke city social service projects by dangling large private contributions. It is highly doubtful that the city of New York would have spent its money for the initiative  without the promise of $60 million in private money.  

This is, of course, a slippery slope, because not every initiative desired by a billionaire philanthropist is necessarily one that a city should chase with money.

***We neglected to mention the Adam Walsh Act in last week’s column, after the deadline for compliance passed on July 27. Youth Today published a story as the deadline passed, which you can read here. In a nutshell: seven states were already in compliance, seven more were deemed compliant on deadline day, and 36 are still up in the air, as is the District of Columbia.

Most of those 36 will not be found in compliance, but there are probably a few that submitted final packages to the Justice Department right before the deadline and will hear favorably from Justice in the coming weeks.

The rest will either eat a 10 percent penalty to future Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding, or will apply to use that 10 percent toward efforts to comply with the Walsh Act. The next big turning point after that for the Walsh Act will probably be the 2012 appropriations. If Byrne JAG gets slashed, it will lower the price states will pay not to comply. If other Justice funds are slashed and JAG is not, it might make that 10 percent look more important.

***Stephen Baxter of the Mercury News reports that a juvenile probation leader in Santa Cruz County, a model site for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, wants to revisit the criteria for detaining kids after a teen who brandished a knife at someone was released and then allegedly stabbed someone hours later.

***A couple of good reads and resources:

-Following the July apprehension of famous Boston criminal James “Whitey” Bulger, Leon Neyfahk of the Boston Globe reported on the rediscovery of 1940’s research about 1,000 boys in Boston that grew up at the same time as Bulger; half were juvenile delinquents, half were not.

John Laub, a former Harvard criminologist who is now the director of the National Institute of Justice, stumbled upon the research in 1985 and started tracking down men involved in the study in 1993; he managed to interview 52 of them about how their lives turned out.  

-Another story out of Massachusetts: Deborah Sontag of the New York Times examines the case of Pericles Clergeau, a Massachusetts teen whose violent path through the child welfare and juvenile systems ended this year with an allegation of murder. Clergeau bounced from placement to placement, Sontag reports, without any person or agency gaining a clear picture of just how troubled he is.

-A great web resource on the subject of juvenile reentry here from the National Reentry Resource Center, a project of the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center. This page provides answers to 19 frequently asked questions about juvenile offenders who are returning to communities after incarceration or residential placement.   

***Mark Ciavarella, the disgraced Pennsylvania  judge who helped orchestrate the Luzerne County juvenile court scandal, will be sentenced on Aug. 11.