Weekly Notes: OJJDP job headed for non-confirmation status; education rewrite and school-to-prison pipeline; and more

***Day 879 of the Obama administration and still no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

We check the president’s announcements for an OJJDP announcement so often, it’s surprising we haven’t gotten a visit from the Secret Service. We nearly jumped out of our seats when we saw the words “juvenile justice” on the June 21 announcement. Alas, it was Presiding Judge of the Alameda County Juvenile Court Trina Thompson, who Obama is appointing to the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

It does look like whoever is chosen for OJJDP administrator, that person will either be the first one who is a political appointment or the last one to be a senate-confirmee. The Senate is close to passing a bill that would remove the Senate confirmation requirement for about 200 positions; among them are OJJDP and the other positions that answer to Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson at the Office of Justice Programs.

Assuming the Senate bill passes with a bipartisan majority, it’s hard to imagine the House not following them on a law that pertains to Senate business. A veto from Obama is even less likely, since this will give him and every president after him the ability to fill more positions without enormous effort and manpower.

The Senate spent a few hours debating the bill and considering amendments to it (none of them pertaining to OJJDP) this week, so it could come up for a vote early next week.

***Here is Judge Thompson’s bio by the way. Was she approached for the OJJDP job? Pretty strong resume here:

Judge Trina Thompson is the Presiding Judge of the Alameda County Juvenile Court.  She was first elected to the Alameda County Superior Court in November 2002 and sworn into office in January 2003.  Prior to her appointment as the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court in 2010, Judge Thompson presided over felony jury trials, adult truancy court, and was responsible, along with one of her colleagues, for managing the domestic violence calendar for Alameda County.  In 2001, Judge Thompson was appointed as a Juvenile Court Commissioner, responsible for hearing juvenile delinquency and dependency matters. Additionally, she was chair of the Alameda County Educational Task Force for the juvenile court to ensure the education of state-raised children. Prior to her appointment as Court Commissioner, Judge Thompson managed a private criminal defense practice from 1991 to 2000, focusing on juvenile, misdemeanor, felony and capital defense trials, and served as a public defender in Alameda County from 1987 to 1991.   Judge Thompson received an A.B. in Legal Studies from the University of California at Berkeley and graduated from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

JJ Today had never heard of adult truancy court before reading here that Thompson presided over one. Is that court to punish parents whose children skip? Anyone who’s heard of it, shoot us an e-mail.

***A vote of confidence for the current OJJDP leader, Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski, from veteran juvenile justice advocate Robbie Callaway:

“I think Jeff understands the role and…knows the act as well as anyone who’s been in [the administrator office], except maybe John Rector because he helped write it.”

***A group of advocates held a Capitol Hill briefing today on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, specifically about how legislators should address the school-to-prison pipeline. The briefing will stem largely from this policy paper written and endorsed by six organizations: the Advancement Project, Education Law Center, the Juvenile Law Center, The Forum for Education and Democracy, National Center for Fair & Open Testing and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Youth Today published a story in April about how ESEA reauthorization could include juveniles, and sources for the story told us that the latest rewrite of ESEA – the No Child Left Behind Act – had helped bring visibility to the issue of education in juvenile facilities.

This paper makes the argument that the standardized testing that took hold with NCLB “has actually given schools a perverse incentive to encourage or facilitate the departure or removal of lower-performing students.” That, combined with waning enthusiasm for school because of the testing and increased reliance on police to handle school discipline, mean “NCLB has played an important role in the expansion of the path from schools directly to the justice system.” 

The paper makes a number of interesting recommendations on how ESEA reauthorization can improve things, including incentive grants aimed at reducing the use of suspensions and arrests in school discipline and requirements that schools establish clear policies for the re-enrollment of juveniles returning to school districts from residential placements.

***As of Monday, 43 states will be out of compliance with the Adam Walsh Act with a month left before that will cost them 10 percent of the federal Byrne Grant distributed to each state by the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Complete guess, but we think you might see the Justice Department declare a number of states compliant soon. It just seems like there has been enough state action of the Walsh Act that some more states will make the deadline.

The others, assuming they handle the paperwork right, will dodge the penalty by making an arrangement with Justice to spend the 10 percent of Byrne that would be taken on activities related to Walsh Act compliance.

***Get well, Bill Byars. Judge Byars ran South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice before Gov. Nikki Haley (R) put him in charge of the adult corrections system (which may soon house the juvenile system as well). Byars was instrumental in moving South Carolina’s juvenile system toward more community placements and out of a federal consent decree.

Byars suffered a mild stroke this week, and Haley said she anticipates that he will be able to return to his job.


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