Weekly Notes: Hanes takes the helm; states facing big changes; and more

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The Notes is back from hibernation! Hope all of the readers are having a lovely 2012 so far. Our hearts go out to the staff of the Pittsburgh-based National Center for Juvenile Justice, so accustomed to their beloved Steelers making a deep run into January, but Tebowed out of contention early in 2012.

***The only juvenile justice news out of the nation’s capital since the ball dropped relates to personnel shifts in the administration of President Barack Obama. We begin with the one closest to the juvenile justice field, the top spot at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

There are 368 days left in Obama’s first term, and there is still no nominee to serve as administrator of the OJJDP, but the administration has named its first acting administrator. As we reported earlier this week, former OJJDP policy director Melodee Hanes has replaced Jeff Slowikowski, who was put in the job by the Bush administration before Obama was inaugurated.

According to agency spokeswoman Starr Stepp, Slowikowski was in the position for about two years and nine months longer than expected, and now takes Hanes’ job leading policy for OJJDP.

“I’m so impressed with this organization and the hard work they do,” Hanes said of her new role in an interview with Youth Today on Wednesday. “I’m totally committed to taking this new role on and moving OJJDP forward.”

How long will she lead the agency? You have to think it will be for the duration of this Obama term, or at least through the election in November. Jobs like OJJDP administrator will become way easier to fill if the House supports the Senate’s bill to remove itself from a slew of presidential appointments. With senate confirmation still in the mix, who knows?

 “A nomination could come at any time,” Hanes said. “For Senate confirmation, certainly that could be challenging this year.”

We asked Hanes what she saw as the immediate priorities for OJJDP, and she named two: “Improving how we do our work” and “do[ing] a better job of articulating who OJJDP is and why it’s so critical.”

Put another way: doing more with less, while making the case for more.

It’s hard to argue with those as overarching themes for the year, as the OJJDP budget got slashed Jason Voorhees-style in 2012 and will certainly be in the crosshairs again in 2013. More immediately, though, she inherits a group of state partners waiting to find out how much less they will have to work with in 2012 funds, and some of them are frustrated at what they perceive to be more compliance work being asked of them by OJJDP.

We asked Hanes if she was worried about states dropping out of participation in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act this year.

“Am I worried? I’m worried about helping states to do the right things,” she replied. “It’s more than just about money. The core requirements embody what we’re all about.

“We’re going to have to be more creative, with less dollars. I intend to be open to suggestions…and work with states as transparently as we can.

Two other job changes of note to the JJ field:

-Laurie Robinson, the assistant attorney general in charge of OJJDP parent agency the Office of Justice Programs, is leaving the Obama administration at the end of February and will be succeeded at least in the short-term by Mary Lou Leary.

-Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes has left the administration, and Obama announced last week that Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz will replace her.

***What else will 2012 bring for the field of juvenile justice? The failure of the super committee to develop a long-term spending plan means proponents of JJ and every other domestic issue will face an uphill battle for dollars again. By summer, the nation will likely know the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion on whether life without the possibility of parole is a constitutional sentence for all, or some, juvenile homicide convicts.

The president will submit his 2013 budget and then prepare for a reelection campaign, while the Republican primary intensifies. The domestic issues most likely to get some attention in the quirky pre-election legislative season are education reform, jobs and immigration.

It is worth noting that two of the Republican candidates have some recognition of juvenile justice. To wit:

-Newt Gingrich is a major spokesperson for the Right on Crime movement, which includes conservatives who embrace a more just approach to incarceration and rehabilitation that also prevents wasteful spending.

-Mitt Romney is the Massachusetts governor who appointed Jane Tewksbury as commissioner of the Department of Youth Services. Tewksbury has gained the respect of juvenile justice watchdogs in the Bay State for steering the system toward youth development approaches, and the academic performance of incarcerated juveniles has improved markedly during her tenure.

Tewksbury was interviewed by the Obama administration to lead the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, but nothing ever came of it. Last month, she left DYS to become the executive director of Thrive in 5, a school readiness program in Massachusetts.

***At the state level, there are a few states that will see some major changes to the way their systems function this year. 

California: Will this be the year that its Department of Juvenile Justice closes the remaining five youth correctional facilities? Gov. Jerry Brown has voiced support for the notion, and the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice agrees with him. Some juvenile justice advocates are worried, though, that without a state placement option for some juvenile offenders, there will be counties where prosecutors will start trying more juveniles in adult court.

Texas: Has downsized the Texas Youth Commission’s network of state-run juvenile facilities, merged the agency with its state juvenile probation commission, and naming TYC boss Cherie Townsend to lead the newly-christened Texas Department of Juvenile Justice.

The big question is, will this new agency be effective in helping counties to develop an array of sentencing option, or will a lower number of state secure beds simply beget a higher number of county secure beds?

North Carolina: Its Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will join adult corrections and a state law enforcement division in a new super-group called the Department of Public Safety. The department has driven down the number of juveniles it confines post-adjudication in recent years, but a slate of facility closures in 2011 has left the system with 75 less juvenile beds than it needs, according to the state Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission. And that is before you factor in that the state might finally raise its age of jurisdiction and include 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system.

Connecticut: Scheduled to add most 17-year-olds to it juvenile justice system in July. The addition of 16-year olds in 2010 went smoothly, due in large part to the fact that the state had reduced its use of pre-trial detention and increased its reliance on community-based sentencing.

Success with the 17-year-olds will require some investments in more program options. The biennial 2012-13 budget includes about $12 million more in JJ funding, which now appears to be locked in after a long negotiation over union concessions.

***Two interesting job openings we have heard about lately, one of which should probably come with a year’s supply of migraine medicine as a signing bonus. That would be the opening at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, where Earl Dunlap is stepping down after more than four years.

The center is a significantly different place than it was in 2007; it used to hold about 600 kids and now holds around 250, and Dunlap estimates that the number of juveniles that are needlessly sent his way has been cut in half since 2007.

It is a high-profile job in a city that has struggled mightily with youth violence. And last week, a 16-year-old ward of the center died after playing basketball while feeling ill.

A less pressurized job is available: executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, a statewide organization dedicated to improving the effectiveness of policies and systems aimed at the prevention and reduction of crime and delinquency. Click here for details on that one.

***The first 2012 meeting of the federal Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is slated for Feb. 10. No agenda has been posted yet.

No public meeting has been scheduled yet for the latest iteration of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which convened for the first time at Juvenile Woodstock back in October.

It does look from the website that the alternate FACJJ member for California, Florida and Texas has been bounced from the group. Maria Estela Quintanilla, a retired teacher and District Crime Stoppers Coordinator for the Laredo (Texas) Independent School District, was named to the committee and attended the inaugural meeting. But now, the FACJJ member list online does not include her name and lists one “TBD” among the alternates.