Bilchik Says OJJDP Took Eye off the Ball

The House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism, and homeland security held an oversight hearing of the various offices within the Office of Justice Program today. On the subject of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, it turned to Center for Juvenile Justice Reform Director Shay Bilchik as an expert witness.

That makes sense, considering Bilchik ran the office from 1994 until 2000. And his testimony succinctly stated the case that so many in the juvenile justice field have made without cameras and congressmen around: That the agency has lost touch with the juvenile justice field, and has lost focus on the act from whence it came.

“Focus has not been adequately maintained on issues related to juvenile delinquency, including efforts to prevent the involvement of youth in the juvenile justice system,” Bilchik told the two representatives in the room at the time, Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) “This drift in OJJDP’s focus comes at a critically important juncture for the juvenile justice field.”

We won’t regurgitate the whole thing: read it here. It is an excellent and concise description of the agency’s move away from endeavors that directly focus on court-involved youth.

But juvenile crime is still near record lows, Gohmert pointed out to Bilchik, who had said as much in his testimony; does OJJDP get any credit for that?

Definitely, Bilchik said, giving particular credit for recent work on anti-gang strategies and the ongoing development of a formal recidivism measure. But any good it has accomplished, “they need to do that twenty-fold,” he said.

“There was a tremendous decrease in juvenile crime” by the year 2000, Bilchik told the two congressmen. OJJDP “had a chance to drive it even lower. They took their eye off the ball.”

Before Bilchik got to the witness table, the subcommittee heard from Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Sedgwick, who did not discuss OJJDP at length. He did mention that, starting this year, OJP is requiring that any grants that have “varied from peer review [scores] are fully documented.”

He appeared, to put it nicely, unready to discuss JJ issues when Scott put questions to him. Asked to cite some effective strategies in reducing juvenile crime, Sedgwick told Scott that juvenile crime was an issue of “growing importance.”

And some best practices on gangs, Scott asked? “We have a variety of best practices,” was his vague reply.

There wasn’t much on Byrne discretionary grants, which we originally heard would be a topic of interest at the hearing. The focus was more on Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, and whether they were funding operations that targeted high-level drug trafficking or just rounding up low-level dealers and users.


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