Laurie Robinson, the assistant attorney general for the division of the Justice Department that oversees juvenile justice, announced in a message to colleagues that she would be leaving the Obama administration at the end of February.
Robinson leads the Office of Justice Programs, which is the main conduit of federal Justice Department funds to the states and includes seven programmatic offices, including the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
Her decision means that Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli is the closest Senate-confirmed leader at Justice to the OJJDP, which has been without a confirmed administrator since J. Robert Flores resigned during the George W. Bush administration.
“When I came to OJP in January, 2009, I initially thought it would be for a month or two to briefly help out the new Administration,” Robinson said. “The stay turned out to be longer. It has been the highest honor of my career to return to the Department to serve under Eric Holder -- and to work with you. ”
Robinson told colleagues that “one of the reasons I can now think about leaving is that we have made substantial progress towards goals I set in 2009.” Those goals included, according to the letter: “restoring a respect for science,” “restoring strong and credible partnerships with the field,” and ensuring “that OJP's grant process is transparent, fair and accessible to our stakeholders.”
She did not mention juvenile justice, an issue that Attorney General Eric Holder has said he intends to make part of his legacy. Robinson did cite the National Forum on Youth Violence and the Defending Childhood initiative as successful ventures in forming partnerships with the field.
Both of those ventures are modestly funded through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, but the rest of OJJDP’s budget has been decimated in the past two years. That is hardly within Robinson’s direct control, since Congress is responsible for appropriating juvenile justice funds.
But many advocates have grown frustrated with Robinson, Holder and the administration for failing to nominate an administrator for OJJDP. In a November interview with Youth Today, Campaign for Youth Justice CEO Liz Ryan said it’s possible the administration wants to see the agency folded up into one entity managed by one Senate-confirmed leader.
‘There is no administrator, there was no advocating for the budget,” Ryan said. “Whether there is intent or neglect, that’s unclear.”
Either way, she said, “I’m appalled and deeply disappointed” in the administration’s efforts on juvenile justice.
Robinson departs the post for the second time in her career; she served in the same capacity during the Clinton administration. Mary Lou Leary, her principal deputy, will serve as acting AAG upon her departure. Jim Burch will continue as deputy AAG for operations and management, and Thomas Abt will remain chief of staff.