Changing of the Juvenile Justice Guard


Ronald Angel, Ark.

Leo Arnone, Conn.

In 2007, eleven states hired new leaders to oversee their juvenile justice systems. That’s nothing new for a position that, nationwide, is not known for the longevity of the people who hold it.

Since then, however, none of those state leaders has left the job. Nor have any of the 17 directors hired by other states over the past two years.

On the one hand, the arrival of 28 new juvenile justice leaders since 2007 epitomizes the breathtaking turnover in those jobs over the past decade. Juvenile justice observers rang the alarm over short-term leadership in 2000, when the average length of service for state directors was 3.6 years. By 2009, that figure had shrunk to 2.5 years.

However, the stability of the newcomers means the average length of tenure should go up. What’s more, their backgrounds suggest a potentially significant change for the field: A good many entered the top jobs with experience in either juvenile justice or youth development, unlike many of their predecessors.

John Clayton, Wash.

Joyce Burrell, N.Y.

The new leadership is “a reflection of where the field is more broadly, and where the knowledge base is,” said Shay Bilchik, director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

In the face of major state budget crises and cutbacks, there couldn’t be a more important time to have seasoned leadership on juvenile justice at the state level. But it is unclear if the current stability in the ranks of these recently appointed state directors will continue or be decimated by state elections later this year. And the effect on state policies by this influx of juvenile justice and youth development specialists is yet to be tallied.

Here are some noteworthy observations about this latest class of state directors.

Don DeVore, Md.

Linda Hayes, N.C.

Most diverse group ever?

In an April 2000 release about its annual survey of state directors, the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) bemoaned the fact that the state leaders had become less diverse since the mid-1990s. About 23 percent of directors were either black or Hispanic in 2000, down from 35 percent in 1995. Only seven women held the top juvenile justice job, compared with 15 percent in the mid-1990s.

CJCA Executive Director Ned Loughran suggested that the get-tough approaches to juvenile justice in the middle of the decade led to the hiring of more law enforcement officials to lead systems, and those tended to be men. “There were a lot more women in juvenile justice leadership positions before the crime wave in the ’90s,” Loughran said.

Racially, the diversity of state leadership is perhaps the lowest it’s ever been: Just 15 percent of all state leaders are black or Hispanic, according to CJCA, which is just over half the number in 2000 and two-thirds fewer than in 1995.

The new class picture is more colorful. Minorities comprise one-quarter of the new hires since 2007.

But gender is the way the new class of leaders most distinguishes itself demographically. Of the 28 new hires since 2007, 15 are female. Among current directors who were hired before 2007, there are only five women.

“It’s been a male-dominated field,” said Stacy Jolles, who was hired in 2007 to

William Fenniman, N.H.

Ron Haws, Ken.

direct juvenile justice for the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) Family Services Division. She views the pattern in juvenile justice as consistent with prevailing trends: More women are in management across the board, and “more men have lost jobs than women” during the recent recession.

The surge in female hires was news to Lawanda Ravoira, director of the Center for Girls and Young Women in Jacksonville, Fla. For 14 years, Ravoira ran a program that worked with girls in the Florida system, and she is now an advocate for increased attention to that population nationwide.

“My hope,” she said, “is that … as women, they will take a critical look at the treatment of girls and young women who continue to be victimized and re-traumatized by a system that is ill-equipped and ill-prepared to address the needs of girls.”

Hiring from the JJ ranks

The uptick in female hires may be attributable to a shift in the type of résumé desired of a juvenile justice leader. A preference for leaders from law enforcement management seems to have given way to a preference for youth development professionals and juvenile justice veterans.

Sharon Harrigfeld, Idaho

Carlyse Giddins, Del.

The national rise in juvenile arrests – which peaked in 1994 – precipitated an influx of law enforcement professionals: judges, prosecutors and police chiefs. Before that, Loughran said, directors often rose through the ranks of a juvenile justice agency and were groomed specifically to replace the outgoing bosses.

The shift was not all terrible, Loughran said. He was surprised that many of the police chiefs turned out to be some of the best juvenile leaders he’s worked with. “But it makes sense,” he said, “because they’re administrators by nature, and most know that locking kids up and throwing away the key does nothing.”

Many of the new hires still come from those law enforcement areas. But more states are tapping juvenile justice veterans or other youth work professionals as their juvenile justice directors. The post-2006 hires include 18 with mostly youth work or juvenile justice experience.

Vermont’s Jolles was briefly a DCF juvenile justice specialist before being named director. A clinical psychologist by trade, she joined the state government from Burlington-based nonprofit Spectrum Youth and Family Services, where she was director of residential services.

“In Vermont, it’s not that big of a leap from doing nonprofit work to working with the state. There isn’t a philosophical breach there,” she said, because the state contracts most of its juvenile services to nonprofits. DCFS operates only one secure facility, which has 30 beds.

Michigan’s juvenile justice system is considerably larger than Vermont’s, but it also relies on private providers to care for most of the juveniles it adjudicates. The Department of Human Services hired John Evans from one of those providers – Ypsilanti-based Highfields, where he was CEO for two years – to lead its Bureau of Juvenile Justice.

Russell Jennings, Kan.

Veleria Lawson, N.J.

Unlike Jolles, Evans had an extensive background on the public side of juvenile justice. He worked for the bureau he now directs before joining Highfields, and before that, he was a caseworker and probation officer for Lenawee and Ingham counties, both in Michigan.

Bilchik, former administrator of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, said he believes the growing amount of research and science around juvenile justice work in the early 2000s has prompted many states to hire leaders who are well-versed in the field.

“There were smart, capable people who had a youth development background” 20 years ago, Bilchik said, but the “the level of sophistication [in juvenile justice] wasn’t where you needed those people.”

Instead, he said, running the juvenile justice system was a job that could be easily handed out as “political payback.”

“There is vetting now for these jobs. You need to have someone who knows what they’re doing,” Bilchik said. “The child welfare field was probably a decade ahead in understanding that you need people with this kind of capacity” to lead state systems.

Power varies greatly

The directors of the 50 state systems, and the District of Columbia, enjoy different degrees of responsibility and influence over the dispensation of justice to youths in their jurisdictions.

Mary Livers, La.

One factor in that determination is the person to whom they report. The majority of the directors – 26 – are subordinate to the head of an overarching child welfare agency or other human service division. Seventeen directors report directly to their governors from stand-alone juvenile justice agencies. Only eight juvenile justice directors report to a boss in the adult corrections system.

“The most important thing is the actual leadership,” said consultant Paul DeMuro, who has helped with juvenile justice reform in a number of states. “But the conventional wisdom is it’s better to have a free-standing agency with a person at the cabinet level who is charged with policies and practices.”

Such a situation reduces the likelihood of different youth-serving programs competing for funds, DeMuro said, particularly in tough budget times. It is a lesson he learned long ago from Ira Schwartz, another former administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

“Ira used to say, ‘It is difficult in budgets for kids who steal cars to compete with kids who are abused,’” DeMuro recalled.

Colette Peters, Ore.

Of the new hires since 2007, sixteen run agencies housed within a human services agency. Nine of the independent juvenile justice agencies have hired new leaders since 2007, as have three run by adult corrections.

In Michigan, Evans acknowledges the “downside in competing interests,” but said he’s happy to be part of a larger agency (the Department of Human Services) that is tasked with youth services, because it eases communication between systems such as his and foster care.

“I like to view it from the child’s point of view,” Evans said. “These kids are virtually the same kids. It’s just a matter of which door they come in.”

Regardless of each agency’s home in the government infrastructure, the breadth of control for state-level directors varies widely around the country. Some state agencies control only youth who are sentenced to lock-up. Some operate pre-trial detention centers as well, and others manage probation services. Some states fund prevention and diversion programs, while others leave that entirely to counties and cities.

Frank Peterman, Fla.

Painful changes

Virtually all of the recently hired juvenile justice leaders should have emerged from the latter part of the decade with credentials in fiscal frugality. Directors brought on in 2007 had about a year of financial normalcy before state budget woes forced painful cuts for many juvenile justice agencies; the rest were brought in while such cuts were being made.

Linda Wheeler Hayes took the helm at the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 2009. That year, the state Legislature passed a biennial budget that saddled her with a 15 percent cut (nearly $27 million) for 2009 and 2010. The cuts included closure of one of the state’s nine youth development centers, elimination of the reserve fund to train staff at the other centers on the state’s therapeutic treatment model, and a reduction of $6 million from community efforts to provide youth activities after school.

Hayes is not the only new director who inherited a system that had been downsized or will be in the near future. Mike Dempsey, executive director of the Indiana Division of Youth Services, faces a 10 percent across-the-board cut in basic services this year, on top of a 10 percent cut last year. In Washington state, Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration Director John Clayton almost certainly will be affected by the results of a study under way to determine what parts of the state prison and juvenile detention systems can be closed.

Cherie Townsend, Texas

The deck is stacked against them

Will one of the new directors become the next Mark Steward, formerly the Missouri juvenile justice director, or Barry Stoodley, now running the Maine system, leaders who lasted in their state posts more than a decade and used their tenures to steer progress in the system?

It’s possible. But the odds of a critical mass from this group of leaders enjoying widespread longevity are slim. Constant turnover of state juvenile justice jobs has been a rule proved by few exceptions over the past two decades.

In the April 2000 summary of its survey, CJCA warned of a regression in the number of average years served by leaders, which fell from 3.9 years in 1999 to 3.6 years in 2000. Compounding the problem, CJCA wrote, was that 17 state administrators reported their intentions to leave the job by 2003.

“Not only are new people coming in, but the experienced CEOs are getting close to retirement,” Loughran said at the time.

In retrospect, the angst seems misplaced; the average length of service has been locked in at around 2.7 years since 2006.

The biggest obstacle to longevity in office will come in the form of the 2010 gubernatorial elections. All of the juvenile justice heads are political hires, serving at the pleasure of their governors.

Only three of the hires since 2007 were brought on by a former governor, with the other 25 announced by current governors. In 11 of those states, the governors will be lame ducks after the 2010 elections, because of retirement or term limits: Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Another nine governors will have to be re-elected in 2010 to keep their jobs. Those are in Arkansas, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Texas and Wyoming.

Governors in two other states that have new juvenile leaders, Louisiana and Kentucky, will be up for re-election in 2011.

“I don’t worry about that,” Evans said of this year’s Michigan election, because it’s out of his control. “It’s been a bipartisan effort to change juvenile justice here.”



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