Weekly Notes: Quiet in the Capital, Upcoming conferences and more

***On the surface, all is quiet on the JJ front in the nation’s capital. No news on a nominee to lead OJJDP, past what we wrote here a few weeks ago. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act reauthorization is through the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been for months. Beltway advocates were told to expect a House version of the reauthorization by June 10. That didn’t happen, but the expectation is that a bill will be in the hopper next week.

Below the surface? Obviously JJ Today makes calls around the country, sometimes just to see what’s happening outside the capital. The most frequent answer to “What’s going on?” these days goes something like this: “Not much, just trying to stay open, working on proposals for OJJDP grant X.”

If our calls are any indication, the staff of  the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is going to have its hands full scoring lots of grant proposals in the juvenile justice realm this summer. We would imagine the same is true of Congressional offices, where the requests for federal earmarks must be substantial.

***Two conferences of note coming up:

July 18-21, San Diego: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Annual Conference. Registration is $550 and up, get in with the early-bird discount by June 18.

October 23-25, Jersey City, N.J.: Fundamental Fairness, Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Juvenile Justice, hosted by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. The conference will be preceded by a one day train session on Oct. 22, offered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), State Relations and Assistance Division (SRAD). Registration fee is yet to be determined.

***Not sure what to think of this meta-analysis released by the Campbell Collaboration, Formal System Processing of Juveniles: Effects on Delinquency. Admittedly we are late on this, because it was published in January.

It’s a meta-analysis of 29 studies done on the impact of processing a juvenile as opposed to either diverting him or doing nothing. The general finding is that processing has no impact on crime control, and correlates to increased delinquency. Studies that compared processing to diversion showed the largest negative effects, which suggests that processing is mildly worse than doing nothing but significantly worse than a genuine diversion to services.

On the other hand, how much stock can one put in a meta-analysis that is top-heavy with old studies? It’s not Campbell’s fault: the group decided to take any study that fit a high methodological standard between 1973 and 2008. But what they found were a lot of studies from the early 1990s, and not much afterward. And the most recent study, from 2008, finds a positive connection in one jurisdiction between processing and crime control when compared with diversion to teen courts. 

It is entirely likely that many states, cities and counties still formally process more juveniles than they need to. It is also entirely possible that what comes after processing has greatly improved for a lot of systems, and that processing leads to deep-end placement less than it did before. Anyway, JJ Today would welcome thoughts from any of our readers on the subject.

***The D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services will hold a high school graduation for 12 of its juveniles housed at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center, which replaced the city’s old debacle of a secure facility (Oak Hill) this year. 

The reform-minded leadership at DYRS (first under Vincent Schiraldi, now under Interim Director Marc Schindler) still has its critics when it comes to decisions about who is securely committed, and the diligence with which it monitors and serves youth in the community. But one thing about the reform that cannot be disputed: it securely locks up the worst offenders, does it for a longer period of time, and better educates them while they are locked up.

Consider the following:

-In 2005, 42 percent of Oak Hill’s wards were there for crimes deemed “low offense severity”; only 30 percent were Tier 1 offenders. By 2008, 61 percent of the youth placed at Oak Hill were Tier 1.

-The average length of stay for Oak Hill’s Tier 1 offenders in 2005 was just over two months. By 2008: they were all there for between nine to 12 months, according to DYRS.

-Pre-Schiraldi figures on education are pretty murky. But school attendance at Oak Hill was under 50 percent, and no tracking was done to see how many juveniles were in school a few months after release. Today: nearly 100 percent attendance, DYRS said, and the average student completes 86 of the credits available to them at New Beginnings’ high school, the Maya Angelou Academy. There is room for improvement upon release, since only six of 10 were attending school six months after release. But at least the current leadership is interested in the outcome.

Of the 900 youth committed to DYRS this year, 19 are going on to college next year. Eight of those 19 are graduating today from the city’s facility for its highest-risk offenders.

***New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer wrote this week about the state’s Tryon Residential Center, which epitomizes New York’s peculiar impasse when it comes to juvenile justice reform. The Times editorial board supports Gov. David Paterson’s plan for reform.

***Wisconsin will likely close the Ethan Allen School for Boys in the very near future. The plan seems to call for turning that campus into an adult facility while building a new juvenile detention center in the area. Wisconsin now joins the ranks of Texas, Ohio and California as states where lower incarceration and fiscal sensibility facilitated a reduction in the amount of bricks and mortar involved in the JJ system. In other states, the hard budgetary times had the reverse effect: alternative programs were shed to protect the secure facilities. 


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