States Happy with OJJDP Staff, Worry about Dwindling Dollars


State juvenile justice leaders find staffers at the federal juvenile justice office helpful, though slow to respond at times, and bemoan the dwindling resources flowing to states from the federal office.

These are the findings of A Pivotal Moment, a report released last month by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) to mark the 35th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

The report is based largely on a survey commissioned by CJJ to learn how juvenile justice specialists in each state and territory feel about the work of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in helping states comply with the act, which is up for another reauthorization.

“The sky is not falling, but the ground beneath is not as firm as it used to be,” said CJJ Deputy Executive Director Tara Andrews, summarizing the sentiments of states about work on act compliance at a panel discussion after the release of the report.

The act requires states to comply with juvenile justice standards pertaining to four core principles: deinstitutionalizing youth who are status offenders; keeping all youth who are not tried as adults from placement in adult lockups; separating juveniles tried as adults from adult jail populations; and addressing racial disparities in the juvenile justice system (disproportionate minority contact).

On a scale of 1 to 10, the federal office received a 5 or higher from 78 percent of state officials for “communications with states to explain compliance mandates,” while 42 percent said the time it takes OJJDP to respond has shortened over the past five years.

Criticisms were directed primarily at members of Congress for approving increasingly lower levels of funding for state juvenile justice grants, then eating up those lower appropriations with their own pet projects and earmarks. The formula grants going to states have decreased from $88.8 million in 2002 to $75 million in 2009, according to the report.

When asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how cuts in state formula grants had affected work on compliance, 69 percent of respondents rated the significance of the cuts between 5 and 10.

“We can’t fund as many local programs, especially in rural communities,” one state said in its reply. (Respondents’ names were not revealed.) “More funds would allow for more non-secure placements, thus giving our judges alternatives for detaining runaway youth who endanger themselves.”

The “Title V” grants, which go to state advisory groups that were created in part to redirect those funds for programs that would help states achieve compliance, declined from $94.3 million last year to $62 million this year. Only $2 million of that gets to the advisory groups, the report said, because members of Congress earmark the rest of those dollars for programs not related to the act.

Grants to tribal communities, the Gang Resistance Education and Training program and Enforcement of Underage Drinking Laws have all been folded into Title V since their independent authorizations expired. Only one state out of 38 that responded to survey questions about Title V grants said it received more than $75,000 last year.

Instead of state advisory groups receiving a couple million dollars to carry out a statewide initiative or pilot project, said Andrews of CJJ, “they now only have money for maybe one $30,000 project.”

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