Notes from Juvenile Woodstock

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All this week, JJ Today is roaming the hallways and meeting rooms of the National Juvenile Justice Conference hosted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which we have dubbed "Juvenile Woodstock." Each day, we'll post once or twice here to chronicle what we found interesting  during the day. 

Thursday, Oct. 13:

JJ Today arrived after a public transportation odyssey to the National Harbor today. On the downside, it takes four times as long to get here on the train/bus than in a car; on the upside, major progress on Angry Birds.

We caught most of the first session on OJJDP’s national mentoring projects. Representatives from three of the grantees presented: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and National 4-H Council.

The latter two described most of their efforts as “group mentoring.” In the case of 4-H, Vice President of Resource Development Jennifer Sirangelo said their mentoring usually involves groups of 10 to 20 youths and three to five mentors. Rick Goings, Chairman Emeritus of BGCA, said the typical arrangement at a club would be one person to 10 youths. Paid BGCA staff count as mentors, though Goings lamented that current fiscal challenges have forced clubs to be “more reliant on volunteers than we’d like.”

A man in the audience expressed a bit of confusion over what exactly made such a structure mentoring. What, he asked, was the difference between this notion of group mentoring and a youth program?

Goings said he didn’t know the programmatic details well enough to give a good answer.

Sirangelo explained that the work done among the mentors and youths was “more intensive” than that done in other 4-H programs.

An audience member had a more cynical answer: “The word ‘mentoring’ is on the grant.”

The lunch session featured keynote speaker Joe Torre, former manager of the New York Yankees. Torre, whose organization, the Safe at Home Foundation, provides safe rooms in schools for children affected by domestic violence. Torre has been tapped by Attorney General Eric Holder to chair the new Defending Childhood Task Force, which will advise the direction of Holder’s initiative to serve youth who witness or experience violence.

Torre deserves a lot of credit for coming from the machismo world of pro sports to become perhaps the most well-known celebrity advocate in the country for adults and children who are victims of domestic violence. Torre grew up with an abusive father who used to throw the plate against the wall when he didn’t like what Torre’s mother Margaret had made for dinner.

The experience left him, he said, with low self-esteem and a sense that whenever he personally came up short, he was letting people down.

 “I was luckier than most,” Torre said. “Baseball was a place to hide and feel worthwhile.”

About 3,300 people ended up registering the conference, according to OJJDP Acting Deputy Administrator of Policy Melodee Hanes. We asked OJJDP spokeswoman Starr Stepp for the number of people who showed up this week: 2,157 on Wednesday and 2,321 Thursday. Most of the panel sessions we attended on Wednesday and Thursday were well attended; the exhibit hall was pretty empty every time we sauntered in.

OJJDP required the state specialists to all host a “state table” in the ballroom at 5 p.m., where each table would give out information and answer questions for people who wanted to sit down and learn about how things work and are funded in other places.

Misfire! There was almost nobody there, and we’re guessing that was because it was scheduled during dinner hours on the last full day. In our humble opinion, it’s actually a pretty cool idea; a big part of Youth Today’s motivation is keeping our readers informed about what other states might do better (or worse) than they are. It probably should have been scheduled during the day in lieu of one slate of panels.

We also checked out a panel on the federal role in education for juvenile justice-involved youth, which mostly focused on the interest on the part of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in preventing students from getting pushed into the juvenile justice system from schools.

We learn two important things, though: there is, somewhere, a specific list of federal requirements when it comes to educating youths in juvenile facilities, and it is the Justice Department (not the Education Department) that has the authority to litigate against a state or county that failed to meet those minimum educational services.

The most interesting session we checked out today was “Collateral Consequences of Crime and Expungement of Juvenile Records,” a discussion about the things that are frequently attached to convictions and adjudications for juveniles: barriers to reentering schools, passing background checks for jobs and having to register as a sex offender, to name a few.

Some tidbits from that:

-In Washington, TeamChild special counsel George Yeannakis learned from fellow presenter Starcia Ague (now  a researcher at the University of Washington) the value of involving youths in advocating against such policies. He tried a number of times to roll back a 1993 law that prevented any juvenile adjudicated for certain felonies to have their records sealed.

Ague, who fell under the law, visited the office of a powerful Republican state senator to make the case, and in 2010 Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a law that allowed courts to seal records that included those felonies. Since then, she has also been successful in advocating legislation to shield many juvenile sex offenders in the state from entry onto a registry.

-Most states do not require public defenders to pursue expungement or sealing of records if a client wants that, so most juveniles would need to shell out $1,000 or so to make it happen. Pennsylvania is a rare exception, said Lisa Campbell of the Philadelphia Defender Association. Since taking on expungement as a special focus a few years ago, she said she has increased the number of expungements achieved by her office from about 100 per year to about 1,000.

“Seeing kids know that the past no longer defines them,” Campbell, “you get to feel what being an advocate is all about.”

-Campbell believes that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding immigration holds some potential for challenging collateral consequences with juveniles. Without going into a too much detail, Padilla v Kentucky involved an immigrant who pleaded guilty to possession of a large quantity of drugs after his lawyer advised him not to worry about deportation because he had been in the country so long.

The high court found that counsel had not just provided bad advice, but advice based on incorrect information, and ruled that a lawyer for an alien charged with crime has a constitutional obligation to tell the client that a guilty plea carries a risk that he will be deported.

Campbell basically believes that it would be possible to equate deportation with things like sex offender registration (possible consequences of a conviction or guilty plea) and challenge anything meted out to a juvenile whose lawyer did not help them make an informed decision about what admitting guilt would mean for them long term.

-Washington State sells its juvenile and criminal records in a batch, twice a year, to credit reporting agencies, according to Yeannakis. From what we have heard anecdotally, it is not the only state that does this.

Today was likely JJ Today’s last trip out to the harbor, since tomorrow’s lineup is mostly awards and speeches. We close with a semi-apt quote from Max Yasgur, the New York farmer who hosted the original Woodstock on his hog farm, in a letter to the Bethel Town Board:

"I hear you are considering changing the zoning law to prevent the festival. I hear you don't like the look of the kids who are working at the site. I hear you don't like their lifestyle. I hear you don't like they are against the war and that they say so very loudly . . . I don't particularly like the looks of some of those kids either. I don't particularly like their lifestyle, especially the drugs and free love. And I don't like what some of them are saying about our government.

"However, if I know my American history, tens of thousands of Americans in uniform gave their lives in war after war just so those kids would have the freedom to do exactly what they are doing. That's what this country is all about and I am not going to let you throw them out of our town just because you don't like their dress or their hair or the way they live or what they believe. This is America and they are going to have their festival.”

Wednesday, Oct. 12:

JJ Today arrived for the 10 a.m. set at Juvenile Woodstock today to a sight that must have been pleasing to Justice Department people:throngs of people roaming the National Harbor Convention Center, adorned with blue conference lanyards, chatting in the hallways and shuffling off to workshops. We will try to find an attendance estimate tomorrow; there is no way it was 2,500, but the number had to be above 1,000.

We spent most of the day bouncing around to parts of different sessions, and checking out the exhibit hall. Some thoughts on the day:

-Disclaimer on the following: It is not about any one session or presenter.

We have no clue when the next national conference will be, or how long the Annie E. Casey Foundation will host national conferences on the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, but somebody please, have a solid half-day training at one of these things on how to moderate or present at a conference workshop or panel discussion or plenary or whatever you want to call it. And pay Clayton County (Ga.) Judge Steven Teske whatever you can to lead that training.

There are really, really good ideas to be consumed at events like Juvenile Woodstock, and so many people probably don’t digest half of what they could because people do not know how to present their ideas in an interesting way. They come to discuss something happening nationally or locally that works, or a problem that persists nationally or locally, and then proceed to bury the valuable information in a sea of back story and rhetoric about collaboration and leadership and trauma-informed decisions. 

By the time they get to the meat of the presentation, half the audience members are checking their Blackberries or their eyes are glazing over.

People from other places who come to hear you present have their own problems going on, and most of them know it’s probably a good idea to have leadership and collaboration. Here’s what people want to know: what you did, how much that cost to do, and what changed. Not everyone is as innately funny as Judge Teske, and it is certainly not easy to do public speaking, which is all the more reason to boost some skills.

It might also help if most conference sessions weren’t an hour and 30 minutes. How did that become the standard length? That’s a really long time to watch anything that doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar or a Tony.

-Very interesting to hear about how Washington State has taken a truancy law that pushed it out of compliance with federal standards on status offenders, and worked within its constructs to develop a sophisticated approach to keeping truants out of the juvenile justice system.

Becca’s Law, which was passed in 1994 after a runaway who had been absent from school for weeks was found murdered, mandated that a petition be filed in juvenile court for any student who had seven unexcused absences in a row or 10 in one year. There were about 100 petitions filed the year before the law took effect, and that quickly rose to about 15,000 a year. Without a lot of options at their disposal, judges put a healthy number of truants into secure confinement, which caused the state to be out of compliance with the federal requirement (in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act) to deinstitutionalize status offenders.

“I started out prosecuting truancy in Pierce County” after the law took effect, said Leila Curtis, who presented on the state’s experience with the law. “I wasn’t really sure we were helping kids.”

With some help from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the state has developed a system under which formal juvenile justice involvement is delayed in favor of a three-tiered system of school-based interventions that involve parents. The tier a student is placed on depends on whether the rest of their life is relatively stable, there are suspected or identifiable risk factors are play.

 -At a session on juvenile sex offenders, one audience member asked presenters what outcome measures they recommended for programs that want to gauge the success of their interventions. Suggestions:

For children 12 and under: The Child Sexual Behavior Inventory, developed by Bill Friedrich.

Ages 12-14: Friedrich’s inventory, modified with some measures that focus on more adolescent behaviors.

15 and older: The Weekly Behavior Report.

In the exhibit hall, JJ Today had a chance to chat with representatives from the Home Builders Institute and Goodwill Industries International, two of the national organizations that received multi-million dollar grants from the Recovery Act to conduct mentoring programs for high-risk youth.

Both said that the initiatives are beginning to take hold of late, although success recruiting juveniles and mentors varied from site to site. In retrospect, it might have been smart to tack a year's “planning phase” on the front of those grants, because we got the impression that both organizations lamented the fact that the programs were hitting their stride right as the initial grants were winding down. Now, various sites will have to compete in the saturated mentoring market for funding without a whole lot of results to stand on yet.

On our agenda for Thursday: Sessions on national mentoring, juvenile information sharing, the federal role in education services at juvenile justice facilities, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Tuesday, Oct. 11:

Significantly more people in the hallways today, although the morning crowds suggested that more people signed up for the pre-conference sessions than actually attended. It looked like about 50 people showed up for session on girls slated for 250 attendees. That is a risk you run, of course, with a long registration time for a free conference. Will the conference itself fall below its projected 2,500 attendees? We’ll find out tomorrow.

About two dozen of the primary and alternate members of the new Federal Advisory Council on Juvenile Justice were on hand for the inaugural meeting today. Based on the charter, it technically could be the last meeting during this administration … or ever. More on that later.

Members received a full run-down of OJJDP’s anatomy (which divisions operate which programs), the agency’s current policy initiatives and a briefing on what might be considered lobbying or unethical actions as an adviser to the government.

There was also some discussion of how exactly the council would operate. Here is what we know:

-All members of the council, primary and alternate, must be members of a state advisory group (SAG).

-The OJJDP administrator – at the moment, Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski – has the authority to create subcommittees of the FACJJ. Those will include some primary or alternate members, but they can also include experts who are otherwise outside the FACJJ fray. So for instance, if Slowikowski wanted some advice or recommendations on indigent defense, he could put FACJJ member and juvenile defense guru Bob Listenbee and some other council members in charge of a subcommittee that included National Juvenile Defender Center CEO Patty Puritz, even though she is not on the council.

While the administrator has the power to convene the subcommittees, their recommendations and advice go to the formal FACJJ for approval; the subcommittee cannot just generate its own opinion and send it right over to the administrator’s office.

-The FACJJ “shall meet approximately once every two years and otherwise as required,” according to its charter. Once every two years!

That doesn’t preclude OJJDP from hosting more meetings than that, and the budget for FACJJ is penciled in at $400,000 for this year. Justice Department counsel Charlie Moses strongly pointed toward the reason for the low number of face-to-face meetings.

“How frequently you meet all comes down to the administrator, Robin Delany-Shabazz [the FACJJ Designated Federal Officer] and the budget,” Moses said. “Really, it’s all about the budget.”

Slowikowski told us that the intention, at least for now, is to meet more frequently, hopefully twice a year. But with a mandate to cut costs wherever possible, OJJDP is looking into whether webinar sessions or phone conferences that somehow included the public could count as a "meeting."

-It was well known that the new council would not focus on an annual report as it used to, and that was the preference stressed today by OJJDP: timelier memoranda or briefings focused on single issues instead of a wide-lens report on juvenile justice.

-The charter enacting this iteration of the council was signed on Dec. 1, 2010, by Attorney General Eric Holder. Which is funny, because we distinctly remember asking OJJDP for some details on how the council would operate, and only hearing that such specifics were in the works. In fact, this structure was signed off on as the previous FACJJ was wrapping up its final meeting.

-The charter expires on Dec. 1, 2012, and “is subject to renewal biennially,”  according to the charter. Which means this council could meet once more as a full body during Barack Obama's current administration, and then cease to exist if the next leadership at OJJDP decides it doesn’t like the format.

The FACJJ selected its chair evening. In a hotly contested campaign, Reggie Robinson of Kansas beat out...nobody, he was the only person who threw his hat in the ring. Robin Lubitz of Arizona will serve as vice chair.

***

The Tuesday session on girls effectively marked the launch of the National Girls Institute, a partnership between OJJDP and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency’s Center for Girls and Young Women.

First up for NGI: A discussion of its findings from a summer-long listening tour of girls that included 61 sessions from April to July with 295 girls (about 60 percent of whom had been arrested), 241 staff and 43 parents.

Among the findings from the listening session: 

-Staff were asked which juvenile stakeholders were most in need of training and which areas were priorities for training? The most common answers to the “who” question were all people on the front end of the system: law enforcement, school personnel and judges.

As to “what,” the most frequent responses included mental health, race and culture, sexual abuse and teen parenting.

-Communication skills are a challenge among all parties with girls in the system: between workers and youths, between parents and workers, and between parents and youth.

-Girls routinely reported a sense that they were being judged unfairly by the system for things that were not their fault, including being sexually abused or resisting the control of bad parents. They also reported wanting to hear more about girls who were system-involved and had made something of themselves.

-Much has been made of late about the mostly-male use of social websites to set up “flash mobs,” for virtue or vice. Social networking websites might be presenting a different problem for girls, according to the conversation at one of the listening session.

“One listening session was dominated by the topic of Facebook,” according to the findings. “Girls reported Facebook ‘is used to spread rumors,’ ‘ruined friendships,’ ‘results in bullying,’ and that ‘girls mean to hurt other girls’ with their Facebook activity.”

The potential for Facebook squabbles spilling over into violent incidents is surely an alarming one for girls' advocates. Assuming these situations often include fans that would never flame to the point of fighting without the internet back-and-forth, it potentially adds more girls into the system when many systems struggle to accommodate the ones they already have.

At the same time, such conflicts carry the potential for teachable moments if they are resolved in some way that forces the girls involved to face each other and work things out.

NGI also hosted a panel discussion today featuring four girls who had become involved in the juvenile justice system and found a girls program that had helped them feel safe and happy.

Bianca, the only adult on the panel, who is set to graduate from Howard University, said her father's enrolling her in Girls Inc. of Dallas offered her the first chance of her life to “be around women who love and care for me.”

Bianca left home at 18 after a year in which her stepmother beat her to the point she called 911 on her, only to have the police tell her to “abide by the rules of the household.” It was as a young adult, “when I was on my own, that I needed Girls Inc. the most.”

Each of the girls found the program they connected with in a different way.  Bianca was signed up after her father found out about Girls Inc. from a friend who also has a daughter; one signed up during an outreach effort at her schoo; one was placed in a girls group home after being released from a secure juvenile facility, and another was referred to a girls program by her foster care caseworker.

Asked by audience members about some ideas for improving services to girls in the system, one suggested that both child welfare and juvenile systems need to specially train caseworkers on girls who have been victims of sex trafficking.

Another demonstrated a precocious comprehension of the status quo: “We need more funding, but I’m not going into that because the economy sucks right now.”

Another audience member asked what role men should play in girls programs, and the response from one girl suggested that as long as their backgrounds were thoroughly checked, male staff should be highly valued by girls program.

“When I got there, I thought the male staff all would try to have sex with me,” said the teen who was placed in a girls group home upon release from a facility, and who had been repeatedly raped and prostituted by family members. “They didn’t, which showed me there are good men out there.”

NGI expects to launch its website, with information on the listening tour and best practices for working with system-involved girls, in January. It is currently taking nominations for possible members to serve as its national advisory board, which will report directly to OJJDP.

Monday, Oct. 10: 

Pretty quiet first day for Juvenile Woodstock, which is not surprising since the conference really starts on Wednesday and it’s the federal holiday for Columbus Day.

Eight day-long, issue-based pre-conference sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, along with the first meeting of the newly constituted Federal Advisory Council on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ). There is only one issue session today, on implementation of Reclaiming Futures, a 10-year-old initiative started by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that involves the use of juvenile drug courts to intervene in cases where the underlying cause of delinquency is drug or alcohol dependence. OJJDP has kicked in funding to help seed expansion of the program.

It is always a big gamble when conference sessions are booked in giant rooms. It definitely did not pay off today, when there were about 40 people at the Reclaiming Futures session in a room that seats about 300 and the air conditioning is set to accommodate that number of people.  We always feel bad for the presenters in the big-room/small crowd scenario. It’s still significantly better than the converse situation: popular sessions booked in the bowels of hotels, with half the crowd standing.

Most of the other sessions today are technical trainings for grantees or initial trainings for new state-level employees responsible for managing federal grants. New state juvenile justice specialists got a day-long crash course in everything from the membership requirements of a state advisory group to “grant fraud awareness.” New state compliance monitors got the first half of a two-day training session.

We had a chance to speak with some of the veteran state specialists who had already arrived, and there is certainly some frustration with the Justice Department over how things have evolved with federal funding and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The perception by some states is that OJJDP is penalizing states more frequently for JJDPA compliance problems while the amount of money the agency provides to states is dwindling. Instead of nailing states for struggling during tough times, one specialist said, the agency should really be offering more help.

Even lower state allocations for juvenile justice are a distinct possibility in fiscal 2012, and as we have reported, a number of states have already had conversations about dropping out of the JJDPA compliance-for-funding system.

What would the repercussions of a state dropping out, we asked one specialist?

“Our judges would start detaining a lot more status offenders the next day,” he said. The state law there permits judges to do so, he explained, so ties to the JJPDA are all that stand in the way of many juvenile judges who would be happy to use detention in more cases where juveniles were in contempt of court.

On JJ Today’s agenda tomorrow: sessions on girls, typology of sex offenders, education, and the FACJJ meeting. OJJDP reconfigured FACJJ for this year to better suit the agency’s needs. The former structure included members of the state advisory groups in each state, and focused mostly on the agency’s JJDPA-related format. But OJJDP has child protection, missing and exploited children and mentoring in its purview as well, and the intention is that an advisory body with SAG members and experts will be more helpful.

Details on how the council will operate – how often and where it will meet, what deliverables it is expected to produce, how the subcommittees of the council will work – should be divulged tomorrow.