Apologies for the absence of Weekly Notes for the past couple weeks. JJ Today has been hard at work on a story about the Luzerne County judges scandal (that story will appear in the April issue of Youth Today, with some additional thoughts in an upcoming piece here). Big news today in that case, by the way: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered the expungement of records for what could be about 1,200 youths who appeared without lawyers before Judge Mark Ciavarella for low-level crimes. Folks close to the case think the number will get even higher; this ruling only covers the kids who did not opt for counsel, but the evidence of Ciavarella’s heavy-handedness, regardless of counsel, might well mean further expungements on a case-by-case basis.
***The big news in the JJ field, of course, is S.678. That is the bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which was reintroduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
There don’t appear to be many changes from the bill that was passed by the committee last session. One provision that advocates hoped might get tweaked calls for states to end the use of valid court orders (VCOs) to detain status offenders over a three-year period. As is, a state could seek a one-year hardship waiver after three years to continue using VCOs, and there is no limit on how waivers many a state can obtain.
The big question now is, who will take control of this thing on the other side of Capitol Hill? No companion bill was introduced in the House last year, and so far the same is true for 2009.
One JJ bill was introduced in the House this month, though: The COPS and the KIDS Act, submitted by Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Calif.). Schiff’s vision is that COPS would be reauthorized at $1 billion; the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 would be renamed the Key Investments in Developmental Services Act; and funding for the that newly named act would match COPS at $1 billion.
No idea whether that’s a good deal in terms of juvenile justice funding, and there are certainly some who believe COPS is not worth reauthorizing at all. But the name change is interesting. In the world of soundbytes and symbolism, KIDS Act might be easier to draw funding to than a name that includes the words juvenile and delinquency.
***We mentioned last year that OJJDP and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT, a division of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services) were going to create a single application for juvenile drug court funding, designed to help communities with existing juvenile drug courts adapt the Reclaiming Futures model. That model was born of the initiative of the same name by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
That is now official. Courts can apply through SAMHSA for up to $800,000 over four years; that funds screening, assessment and treatment components. OJJDP will provide a one-time award of $425,000 to each grantee for court operational services.
The deadline is May 5. Again, only existing drug courts are eligible.
***Speaking of Reclaiming Futures…the blog for the initiative turned us onto news of this film made by young inmates at a Westchester (N.Y.) correctional facility. Nine inmates, all between 16 and 21 years of age, were participants in a pilot project offered by the Jacob Burns Film Center at the Westchester County Jail. Their film, “Judgement,” is available to view here, on Burns’ YouTube Channel.
***OJJDP released its 2008 Annual Report on March 25, which provides a fairly exhaustive account of what each division of the agency was responsible for during the year. The last pages provide a list of states that are out of compliance with the four core requirements of the Juvenile Justice Act. Congratulations, Mississippi: You are now only out of compliance with two of the four, down from three.
***Kojo Nnamdi, who hosts a radio show on Washington, D.C.’s, National Public Radio affiliate (WAMU), is hosting an series of shows related to juvenile justice in the city. Really good stuff. The last one focused on transfers of juveniles to adult court, a decision that is currently made in the nation’s capital by prosecutors. There is national significance to his series, because the head of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Vincent Schiraldi, is a serious candidate to run the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Schiraldi is slated to appear on the show in the coming weeks. Pick through Nnamdi’s archive for JJ-related broadcasts.
***The New York Times ran a sizable piece today on the Missouri model. There is no question that the state has become the standard-bearer for working with confined juveniles, but reporter Solomon Moore hit on two interesting points. First, the state sends a lot of its most serious juvenile offenders into the adult system; the Missouri Division of Youth Services (DYS) never gets a crack at using its methods on many of the juveniles who most need it. Second, with success has come faith from judges, who now send youths to confinement who probably don’t need it, just because the judges know that DYS will serve them well.