Weekly Notes – Summer Roundup

Hope everyone in the JJ field had a great summer. JJ Today was relatively quiet in the month of August for two reasons. First, vacation; enough said. Second, we are all hard at work here improving the Youth Today website to better serve readers and include more content.

The new site is still in development but is mostly functional, so check it out; we would love any feedback on likes or dislikes.

Here is a summer roundup version of the Notes:


***Let’s get this out of the way right off: no movement on OJJDP administrator. The president did not make a lot of recess appointments or nominations.

With both chambers of Congress on recess, there was no real movement on reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

***OJJDP did start alerting grant winners for Fiscal 2010 solicitations. It looks like winning proposals are getting an automatic alert of some sort sent to them from Grants.gov. So announcements on those should be coming soon. 

***We mentioned the Inspector General’s (IG) audit of the national and local mentoring grants made through Recovery Act funding, and speculated that it could spark a shift at the Office Justice Programs toward normalizing peer reviewer scores on grants. Normalization, in this case, seeks to adjust a set of scores to account for unusually high or low marks by peer reviewers.

The IG report seems to suggest that OJP should use this process more often. But since JJ Today had to cram hard at the last minute just to pass basic statistics, we asked someone much smarter about government and math: Harry Wilson, former director of the Family and Youth Services Bureau, where he dealt with many a peer-reviewed grant competition.

Wilson: “The normalized score only works if there is a critical number of reviewers, hence a good number of scores to normalize. The normalized score is appropriate if an agency were to have a dozen reviewers working on a review. It is applied to normalize variant scores by using a standard deviation calculation.

“If there are only 3-5 reviewers (as is typical with a large pool of applicants) the calculation is too reactive to any one score and it does more harm than good. With only a few scores to work with the normalized scoring can rate a lower scoring grant with strong reviewer agreement on a given score, higher than a grant with a much higher average score.”

So there you go.

***The Harrisburg, Pa.-based Youth Advocates Program (YAP) is usually a pretty good barometer for what’s going on in the field. YAP deals mostly with community-based services and operates in 18 states.

YAP’s fiscal 2010 suggests that budget crunches are prompting two very different reactions from states: investment in, or elimination of, community alternatives to incarceration.

YAP either lost or had contracts significantly reduced in Florida, Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina. But it also picked up a contract to serve three counties in Alabama along with a major project in Savannah, Ga., and last year it signed on as part of an enormous safety initiative led by the Chicago Public Schools. YAP ended up with $6 milllion less in revenue than it did in 2009, but still managed to turn a profit.

***For your bookmarking pleasure: The Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based group the pushes for fair sentencing practices and alternatives to incarceration, has long been involved in juvenile justice issues. It now has a website dedicated to the subject.


***The Center for Court Innovation spearheaded a project to create I Got Arrested: Now What?, a comic book that helps clue youths in on what to expect after they find themselves under arrest. The idea is for intake staff to give youths the comic early in the arrest process, so they can read up and know what is coming at them.

No single comic can encompass the many variables associated with one court case, but this does a good job of presenting a believable scenario that plenty of first-time juveniles will identify with: Mom is pissed and doesn’t want to come get him, spends night in detention, judge gives him a chance to prove he can stay free and get his life back in order.

The comic book was developed in partnership with the New York City Department of Probation, the Center for Urban Pedagogy and designer Danica Novgodoroff. To place a bulk order for the comics, click here. You can get 25 for free, up to 50 for $30, or between 50 and 100 for $50.

***The National Juvenile Justice Network has released two new guides: one on forming effective and self-sustaining family partnerships in juvenile advocacy, and one providing tips on what has proven effective when it comes to presenting anecdotal evidence on juvenile justice issues.

JJ Today has no hard numbers to prove this, but it seems like, more than ever, D.C. advocacy organizations are really tying into the grassroots level. And not only by affiliating; the national groups are helping to form and support them.

Take, for example, Families and Friends Organizing for Reform of Juvenile Justice, a new campaign in Missouri. The group was started by Tracy McClard (whose son, Jonathan, took his own life in an adult jail) with assistance from the D.C.-based Campaign for Youth Justice. The Campaign will come to Missouri in late September to help McClard officially launch her group with a panel discussion at Southeast Missouri College.


***The Los Angeles Times ripped the California General Assembly for killing a bill by Sen. Leland Yee that would mandate periodic reviews of life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences handed down to juvenile offenders. Yee believed he had the votes that day, the editorial said, but at least six projected yes-votes bailed at the last minute.

This is a tough loss for anti-LWOP advocates, because many of them wanted to see laws like this take hold in the wake of the Supreme Court ban on LWOP sentences for non-homicides. It will probably be years before the court takes on LWOP in juvenile homicide cases, if it takes that up at all. Yee’s bill could have set a model for lawmakers in other states to effectively eliminate LWOP homicide sentences before the high court ever heard arguments.

***Luzerne County, site of the infamous cash-for-kids scandal at its juvenile court, now intends to create a model juvenile unit.  

***As the budget plagues continue in California, Los Angeles County approved $7.9 million to hire more staff to watch over its troubled probation department. Smart move: better to pay that now than get in even more trouble with the U.S. Department of Justice, which told the county in a letter this summer that it was not satisfied with the progress it was making under its settlement with Justice.

***Another state with horrendous fiscal projections, Oregon, announced that it would downsize its juvenile justice system as part of government-wide cutbacks.

***Aiesha Steward-Baker, a Seattle area girl who was the victim of a vicious beating earlier this year, was convicted earlier this month of second-degree robbery for an attack on a 50-year-old Shoreline woman. This is a priority issue (albeit a low-funded one) for the Justice Department: the idea that victimized youths are often the ones who later surface as victimizers.

***When Missouri’s Department of Social Services won Harvard University’s Innovations in Government award, one of its former wards, Terrence Barkley, spoke on behalf of the agency at Harvard.

On August 29, Barkley was a 19-year-old making the best of it. He had bounced around colleges, developed his art skills and for the most part had stayed out of trouble.

On August 30, Barkley was a homicide victim. He was killed by gunmen who fired from their car into his in a Kansas City neighborhood. Police are not yet sure if he was the target, or if the shooters were looking for someone else (it was not Barkley’s car).


Three big events coming up in October:

-The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Inter-Site Conference, where all kinds of folks from current and prospective sites get together. This year it’s in Kansas City from Oct. 4-6. As usual, JJ Today will be roaming the hallways and plenary sessions.

-16th National Symposium on Juvenile Services, which is put on by the National Partnership for Juvenile Services. This year’s symposium will be held in San Antonio from Oct. 10-13. The agenda for this looks pretty good, especially the Wednesday sessions; we might have to crash this party too.

Fundamental Fairness: Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Juvenile Justice, a nation conference on disproportionate minority contact that will be hosted by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice on Oct. 23-25 in Jersey City, New Jersey.


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