Weekly Notes: Date set in LWOP case; Texas job loses one candidate, gains another; and more

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Happy holidays and Happy New Year to all our readers. Here is hoping that wherever they are, and whatever they did, juvenile offenders locked up during these next two weeks have a chance to see or at least hear from their families.

***The National Center for Youth in Custody, which was started this year with funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, needs itself a program director. The center is overseen by the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators and the National Partnership for Juvenile Services.

The program director will manage the activities of the center, including collaborations and communications with partner organizations, reviewing and responding to requests for technical assistance, representing NC4YC at conferences across the nation and maintaining the center’s web site. Send letters of interest and resumes to Darlene Conroy at CJCA: 170 Forbes Road, Braintree, Mass. 02184, or by e-mail to Darlene.Conroy@cjca.net.

***OJJDP released a summary of juvenile arrests in 2009, which you can access here. Three interesting notes:

-Juvenile arrests for violent crime dropped 10 percent between 2008 and 2009, and overall juvenile arrests dropped 9 percent.

- Between 1994 and 2009, the violent rate index rate fell nearly 50 percent to its lowest level since at least 1980.

-When you look at clearances of crimes connected to an arrest, juveniles are involved in a lower proportion of the nation’s crime activity. For example, 15 percent of arrests for violent crimes involved juveniles but only 11 percent of clearances involved juveniles.

***March 20 is the scheduled date for the U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, two cases that challenge the constitutionality of life without parole for juvenile offenders.

Kuntrell Jackson, from Arkansas, was present for a robbery that ended with the killing of a clerk. Evan Miller set an elderly neighbor’s home on fire after beating him, and the man ultimately died of smoke inhalation.

Click here for Youth Today’s breakdown of how the judges might rule in the case.

***There are 393 days left in the presidential term of Barack Obama, and there is still no nominee to serve as administrator of the OJJDP.

At the state level, there are two intriguing jobs in play at the top of juvenile justice agencies. In Kentucky, Ron Haws announced this week that he will resign this month after nearly four years as commissioner. Deputy commissioner Hasan Davis was quickly named acting commissioner, and fielded questions last week on Kentucky’s efforts to curb its penchant for detaining status offenders.

In Texas, the two agencies that used to oversee parts of the juvenile justice system – the Texas Youth Commission, led by Cherie Townsend and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, headed by Vicki Spriggs – are being merged into one entity.

It was assumed that both women would be in the mix to lead the new Texas Department of Juvenile Justice, and they were basically given the month off with pay in December to apply for the job. But Spriggs, who at one time appeared close to being the OJJDP nominee, decided to pass and took a job leading Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

Along with Townsend, JJ Today knows of one other candidate to lead the new agency: Joe Vignati, who is currently the director of justice programs for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Office of Children and Families. Vignati is also the National Juvenile Justice Specialist for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which represents many of the state advisory groups in Washington.

***Meanwhile, no answer yet as to what OJJDP plans to do about the minimum allocation of Title II formula funds to the states, which are distributed to each state on the condition that they adhere to certain standards included in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

Congress only appropriated $40 million for Title II, and the agency sent us an explanation earlier this week that said when the total appropriation for Title II is less than $75 million, “the minimum allocation shall be not less than $325,000 and not more than $400,000.”

The $325,000 is clear in the legislation, and the minimum allocation would only drop below that if Congress appropriated such a small amount of money that OJJDP couldn’t evenly split it at $325,000 across all of the states.

JJ Today is still trying to find more clarification on the “not more than $400,000” part.  The total amount appropriated for Title II last year was $62 million last year, but OJJDP kept the minimum allocation at $600,000, choosing to cut more deeply on the funds to more populous states. It is hard to see how that could have happened if the ceiling for Title II in a sub-$75 million year is $400,000.

OJJDP’s state relations division met this month with some of the state juvenile justice specialists to get a feel for what this year might look like. The gist of that briefing, based on an e-mail summary of it obtained by JJ Today:

State specialists are concerned about the coming cuts, and it is likely that some states will drop out of participation with the JJDPA. Other states might be able to stay in participation if the agency can work with them on reasonable ways to limit the scope of compliance activities. One suggestion in the e-mail is limiting the universe of facilities that states would be required to monitor under JJPDA.

***Earlier in the week, Youth Today covered at length “The Massachusetts Experiment,” a symposium hosted by Youth Advocates Program (YAP) and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. A few additional thoughts that got left on the cutting room floor, because that puppy was getting long:

Overtime savings is huge. In more than one state, systems have emptied or drastically reduced the population in juvenile facilities but were unable to immediately lay off staff accordingly, either because of legislative protections or union contracts. This creates a political theater of the absurd, where ward-less juvenile prisons are guarded or low inmate counts drive the annual cost per youth of a facility into the hundreds of thousands.

But John Mattingly, who led New York City’s juvenile justice system before leaving for a job at Casey, made an interesting point about overtime. His Administration for Children’s Services shut down a juvenile detention center and was unable to lay off staff, but the savings reaped from not paying overtime was enough to fund some of the community-based options the agency desired. 

The facility was “run on the basis of overtime,” Mattingly said, “so even keeping staff on with no overtime helped.”

Involve families and offenders. Parents of incarcerated juveniles have connected across state lines in recent years. The Campaign for Youth Justice has its own coalition of parents with children in adult facilities, and one of those parents, Grace Bauer, has started organizing a larger collective of parents affected by juvenile incarceration.

***Good night and good luck to Jackie Ruffin, the longtime spokeswoman for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, who retires this month after 20 years with the Reno-based organization. Ruffin plans to do some freelancing work.

Note: Weekly Notes will be on holiday hiatus through the 6th.