Melodee Hanes Named Acting Administrator of OJJDP

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Melodee Hanes has replaced Jeff Slowikowski as acting administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, reaffirming what many already thought to be the case: there will probably not be a presidential appointment for the agency any time soon.

Slowikowski, who has worked at OJJDP since 1990, was the associate administrator of the demonstration programs division when the George W. Bush administration named him as acting administrator in January of 2009. 

The shake-up is due to Slowikowski’s desire to leave the administrator position, said OJJDP spokeswoman Starr Stepp.

“He has served for nearly three years in a job that he and his family thought would be for three months,” Stepp said. 

Hanes has since 2009 served as deputy administrator of policy for OJJDP, which funds state compliance with federal juvenile justice standards and also supports delinquency prevention, mentoring, child protection and the pursuit and assistance of missing and exploited children.

Hanes inherits the reins at a tumultuous time for the agency. OJJDP took a $148 million cut in a 2011 spending deal passed last April in a last-gasp effort to prevent a federal government shutdown. In November, Congress approved further cuts to the agency for fiscal 2012.

The formula and block grant funds to states from OJJDP have declined from a total of $130 million in 2010 to $70 million for 2012. Gone completely is OJJDP’s funding for demonstration programs, which in 2010 was appropriated $91 million. Congressional earmarks have routinely ate up the demonstration programs funding since the early 2000s.

One of Hanes’ immediate priorities will surely be the agency’s relationship with states in regard to the formula funds, which dropped to $40 million in 2012 from $75 million in 2010 and $62 million in 2011. Those funds are given to states in exchange for compliance with four core requirements included in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJPDA).

Ten percent of the formula funds can be spent on the state employees tasked with the process of compliance monitoring, which the state has to match. The decline in funds has some state juvenile justice leaders questioning the value of participating in the act at all.

“She has a tough road ahead as state allocations take a big hit in 2012,” said Joe Vignati, administrator of the Division of Justice Programs at the  Governor's Office For Children and Families in Georgia. “Her ability to provide leadership by keeping states participating in the JJDP Act will be tested.”

Juvenile justice policy advocates have grown frustrated with the Obama administration for failing to nominate someone to be the Senate-confirmed administrator of OJJDP, and for not pushing harder in the budget process to protect federal funding for OJJDP. 

Some even believe that there is a desire in Obama’s Justice Department to see OJJDP folded up into a larger, consolidated agency at Justice.

“It certainly looks like it,” said Liz Ryan, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, in a November interview with Youth Today. “There is no administrator, there was no advocating for the budget. Whether there is intent or neglect, that’s unclear.” 

Hanes also steps in just weeks before her superior at the Justice Department, Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, leaves the Obama administration after leading the Office of Justice Programs for three years. 

Hanes will report to Mary Lou Leary, Robinson’s principal deputy, who will serve as acting assistant attorney general. After Robinson leaves, the closest Senate-confirmed official to OJJDP will be Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. 

Hanes was a staffer for Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) for six years before joining OJJDP in 2009. Hanes and Baucus developed a romantic relationship during that time, and the two were married in July 

Baucus included Hanes on a list of three people he recommended to the Obama administration for the Montana U.S. Attorney post, a move that came under scrutiny because he did not disclose their relationship. Hanes withdrew her name and took the job at OJJDP 

“She inherits an agency that does not appear to have a lot of support in Congress or within the White House,” Vignati said. “As a political appointee hopefully she will be able to leverage some of that juice into increased visibility and national support for juvenile justice reform.”