JJ Today

Weekly Notes: Tough choices loom for OJJDP on state; a look at "crossover youths"; and more

November 11, 2011 by John Kelly

Notes is back after a week hiatus to put some work in on the November print edition of Youth Today. Happy Veterans Day to anyone in the juvenile justice field who ever answered our nation’s call, including JJ Today’s former officemate, Terry Modglin, a former captain in the 173rd Airborne, tireless federal youth advocate and devout St. Louis Cardinals fan.

***The big news this week was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to again take up the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to die in prison. The court banned the use of death penalty sentences for juveniles in the 2005 Roper v Simmons decision. Five years later, with two new justices in place, the court ended the use of life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of- non-homicide offenses.

Earlier this week, it agreed to hear oral arguments in two cases - Jackson v Hobbs and Miller v Alabama  – that challenge whether LWOP sentences violate the cruel and unusual punishment safeguards of the Eighth Amendment. 

Click here to read our story about the upcoming oral arguments. The court could decide to do nothing, or it could take one of three actions:

-End LWOP for juveniles.
-Draw a bright line that protects some population of juveniles, either younger teens or those who were involved in crimes related to a homicide, but did not directly kill a person.
-When a juvenile is convicted of a crime that carries a mandatory LWOP sentence, require judges to review the sentence based on the youth’s age and maturity.

The high court will hear the two cases sometime in early 2012, if you believe Supreme Court guru Lyle Denniston (and we do).

James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University (Boston) researcher, wrote for the Boston Globe yesterday that the court was likely to limit juvenile LWOP, and urged Massachusetts to get ahead of the curve and ban the sentence for juveniles right now.

Fox is best known for his 1990s prediction of a “blood bath of teenage violence” helped to fuel get-tough juvenile legislation around the country, but in recent years has been a proponent of prevention funding and an outspoken critic of harsh juvenile laws in Massachusetts.

***Appropriations conferees from both houses of Congress are working on a deal to fund the Department of Justice and some other federal agencies, and advocates in Washington are entreating state and local advocates and stakeholders to call the conferees and push for the Senate’s juvenile justice appropriations over those passed by the House Appropriations Committee.

That must be a tough request to make for a group of people who, two years ago, thought a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act would lead to a sizable increase in funds for activities related to the act.

Now, the same advocates have to push a Senate bill with thrifty juvenile justice allocations over a House bill with none. The Senate funds all of the JJPDA programs at really low levels, and the House funds almost no JJDPA operations. Both fund mentoring higher than any JJPDA line (Senate $55 million, House $83 million).

The sense JJ Today got from Beltway advocates was that there was no room for maneuvering the JJDPA lines up; their only option was to push the Senate bill over the House. And efforts to draw some money out of the Bureau of Prisons allocation, the only one in the Justice to receive an increase this year, were quickly shot down on the Hill.

“There are very good people [in Congress] that won’t step or can’t step up,” said FirstPic Senior Vice President Robbie Callaway, who started lobbying for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention funds when America was only 13 colonies. “Party politics is worse than it has ever been.”

In a different Congressional era, Callaway recalls, there were two people you could always rely on in dire times to make it happen for juvenile justice funding: Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

This could get worse next year. If Congress rejects whatever the Super Committee comes up with to shore up long-term spending, it will trigger forced cuts across the board for fiscal 2013.

***Regardless of which house’s spending marks prevail on juvenile justice, the Justice Department leadership will have a tough decision to make when it comes to the JJDPA Title II formula funds: cut funds for a small number of states with high populations, or lower the minimum allocation given to states with small populations?

The House’s meager JJPDA budget includes only for the formula grants, funded at $40 million. The Senate version includes $45 million.

The 2011 spending deal chopped about formula grants down from $75 million to $62 million. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is allowed to lower the minimum allocation below $600,000 if it receives less than $75 million for formula grants, but OJJDP chose to keep the $600,000 allocation in 2011 and make the larger states absorb the cuts.

In 2011, 22 states received the minimum allocation, though three actually received less because of penalties related to non-compliance with the JJDPA act standards.

If the 2011 minimum is maintained, the grants to more populous states will look awfully small. If the minimums are lowered, those smaller states might start to wonder if the formula money is worth the work.

We’ve heard this year it could drop to $400,000, which might push some of the less populous states to opt out of JJDPA. The nightmare scenario for OJJDP would be lowering the minimum to protect bigger states, and then still seeing a Florida or Texas walk away from JJDPA.

There is a third option: splitting it. If you take out about $700,000 for Puerto Rico and the other territories, it leaves each state and D.C. with $868,627 if the Senate’s higher appropriation prevails. There were 12 states that received more than that in 2011; eight of those received more than twice the amount.

***A quick update on the food fight between OJJDP and its grantees. We won’t go back into the details of this, just click here to read what the original beef is about (hiyooo!).
The juvenile justice specialists from each state and territory sent a letter to Justice Department leaders explaining (with specific examples) the short-term problems with the new federal limitations on food and beverage spending.
Acting OJJDP Administrator Jeff Slowikowski replied:

“In your memo, you reference that many of the statewide conferences and training were planned months in advance with contracts already in place. Our guidance does not require that States cancel the meetings or the food if it was already contracted prior to the October 21, 2011 guidance. However, if a State has contracted for food, they must be within the allowable per diem limits for food and beverage.”

Two problems with that:

1) Which “allowable per diem limits” does this refer to…the limits before Oct. 21? This is what grantees are not quite clear on, JJ Today is told.

2) Slowikowski’s response does not address whether the new rules apply to sub-grantees, particularly ones that work directly with juveniles and other youths. For instance, is an evening reporting center some county uses instead of detention allowed to use its sub-grant from the state to provide dinner for teens?

In the absence of clear guidance, JJ Today heard that OJJDP staff that work with the state grantees are telling specialists to let already-contracted conference and sub-grantee programs continue as planned, and sort out the bodies later. Presumably that means OJJDP will deal with it, because if the state gets stuck with extra costs, the body being sorted might be the state specialist.

***The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation released a major study focused on Los Angeles County’s “crossover youth,” kids who exit both foster care and the county probation system by the time they are adults.

You can click here for our full coverage of it earlier this week, and here to read the study. The percentage of Los Angeles foster youth who are crossover youth is pretty small, the study finds, and within that small group there are 25 percent who account for 75 percent of the public utilization costs as adults.

The research seems to reveal a real opportunity to pinpoint, during childhood, those who end up needing lots of costly public assistance or incarceration in their early adult years. One of the study’s authors, University of Pennsylvania Prof. Dennis Culhane, said he hopes to conduct further research that can help youth-serving agencies predict which youth will fall into that 25 percent and target services at them.

***There are 435 days left in the presidential term of Barack Obama, and there is still no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

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