Weekly Notes: Mari Kay Bickett on the future of the Judges’ Council; Justice nixes two juvenile grants; Beyond Scared Straight 2.0; and more

***Day 939 of the Obama administration and still no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Officially taking suggestions on how JJ Today should celebrate the 1,000 day mark, if it comes to that.

***Meanwhile, OJJDP has nixed two of its 2011 grants: the Comprehensive Anti-Gang Strategies and Programs and Evaluation of the Second Chance Act Juvenile Mentoring Initiatives. The solicitations for both had already been published and applications were in, but the 2011 April spending deal did not include enough for OJJDP to fund all of the programs it anticipated it could earlier in the year.

The gang grants were going to fund governments or nonprofits to hire a coordinator who would tie together anti-gang initiatives within a jurisdiction. The grants were substantial, $750,000 over three years, although the solicitation did not specify how many of them would be awarded.

The juvenile mentoring evaluation would have selected one national evaluator ($3 million over five years) to assess the implementation of juvenile mentoring programs funded by the Second Chance Act “and their impact on service delivery and key outcomes for participating youth, including recidivism.”

We hope that project just gets delayed and not done away with. For better or worse, mentoring is the juvenile justice pot with the strongest support among appropriators within the OJJDP budget, as evidenced by the fact that mentoring money barely was touched by House appropriators while they gutted the rest of juvenile justice spending for 2012. It would be nice to know if mentoring juvenile offenders actually has a deterrent effect on recidivism and a positive correlation with academics and development.

***A quick update on plans to replace the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. During a webinar OJJDP held this week, viewers were told two things of interest:

1) Former FACJJ members cannot serve on the new committee,

2) Former committee members, as well as state staff (such as juvenile justice specialists, compliance monitors and DMC coordinators), will be allowed to serve on subject matter subcommittees.

So the advisory committee itself will be all-new, with no carry-overs from FACJJ, but the subcommittees that OJJDP plans on convening around specific issues can include all sorts of different state leadership (the FACJJ included only members of the state advisory groups). 

Click here and check the top right of the page for more details on the reconstituted FACJJ.

***Yesterday, we posted some recaps of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ annual conference in New York, which were generously written for us by judge-turned-author Irene Sullivan. Click here for her recap of a session on the treatment of gay youth in the juvenile justice system, and here for a piece on the potential for “benchcards” to address racial disparities in child welfare.

After the conference, JJ Today had a chance to speak with Mari Kay Bickett, the council’s new executive director.

Bickett took the reins at a pivotal time for the Reno, Nev.-based organization. In April, the same month she was named to replace Mary Mentaberry, the federal government avoided a near shutdown by agreeing on 2011 spending levels that cut deep into the juvenile justice budget.

A 2012 spending proposal passed by the House Appropriations Committee would slash even more from juvenile justice, including elimination of the demonstration programs and earmarks that provided much of NJCFCJ’s funding.  

We mostly wanted to hear what she had in mind for the near future of the organization and its 100 employees. Some notes:

She knows they can’t lean on the feds anymore. “What I’m looking to do is to diversify the funding base for sure. To that end, I created a reorganization plan working with [our] department directors, during our retreat in June, on better ways to operate and manage the organization so we’re not so siloed.”

Bickett is creating a development department, and she hopes she “will have a development director” hired soon.

“It will always probably be that our largest funder will be the federal government,” she said. “But it won’t be the sole source of funding.”

Foundation support and increased membership will have to play more of a role. “Finding pockets of the judiciary we aren’t serving” is part of the plan, said Bickett. “With the creation of a development department, I think we can go after new members and service our current members better. I think there are more family court judges and general jurisdiction judges that we need to provide services for.” She was referring to general jurisdiction judges who do custody hearings or divorce proceedings.

Bickett also said she’d like to look at planned giving, which seems to make sense considering that the membership is largely made up of judges, most of whom will retire from their legal careers with some savings.

– No bad feelings over past troubles. We asked Bickett if, in speaking with federal staff and other funders, she sensed any wariness about dealing with the council in light of the organization’s settlement with the Justice Department over how it administered its federal funds.

“I’m working through meeting all of our program partners,” she said. “I’ve had nothing but a very positive reception.

“I think the council can compete for any [federal] funds out there. We all know the way of the earmark is gone, and I’m not lamenting that. I talked to a Washington staffer about that last week; he was a little surprised that earmarks were not in my lexicon. We have foundational strength and really a scary-smart staff that can support any grant we can pursue.”

Cuts to courts happening, but not catastrophic…yet. We asked Bickett what she heard in the hallways and panels during the annual conference about how state budgets were impacting court functions.

“Anecdotally, there is not as much funding as there was and resources are scarce,” she said. “I can’t say it was overwhelming, where people were just talking about that during breaks.

“We’re going to see a diminution in services, maybe next year it will be at a crisis level. Right now … there is a lot of talk about doing more with less, and staff cuts.”

***The second season of Beyond Scared Straight premiered last night. This season features programs held in jails; the first season focused on programs in prisons.

The general flow of the episode was pretty much the same as season one. A group of boys and a group of girls from Mecklenburg County, N.C. (Charlotte is the hub) are taken to jail, and their experience begins with officers barking orders and inmates getting loud in their faces. The boys were paired up with jailed inmates, and the first two promptly talked about turning them into their girlfriends, and trading them to other inmates for cigarettes.

At the girls’ jail, the women surrounded one girl and, with the help of a guard, screamed at her for a full minute nonstop. Both sets of kids mostly looked pretty confused.

When the conversation turned quieter, it looked like the youths and inmates made a connection. A young man asked about how much they see their families and kids; a girl opened up about the reason that she fights boys at school (because she watched her mom get beaten).

Then, they all stayed over at the jail. Which, oddly enough, would be a violation of federal standards if they had been adjudicated but is permissible because the youths are signed up for the Mecklenburg County program by their parents.

Watching this show, it really did look like the kids genuinely were affected by the experience, that it did bring to miserable life a place that maybe has been romanticized to them.

The question with scared straight programs is really about the deterrent effect. Beyond Scared Straight shows quick updates at the end of each show about how kids are doing a month or two out of the program. Many of them are doing okay, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Does the memory stick? Are these kids staying out of the system long term?

We asked Joe Vignati, a member of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice executive committee and one of the more outspoken critics of the program, to watch the episode and share some thoughts:

Same old story, abusive guards and then abusive inmates. Some kids break, some don’t. 

I feel bad for the kids, and even for the guards and inmates. They think they are doing something that helps kids, truly appear to believe it, but unfortunately that isn’t the case.

I think about all the [money] going to [producer Arnold] Shapiro and A&E and … and it makes me angry.  

The schizophrenic nature of the program – people screaming, yelling, threatening abuse – kids are supposed to be scared, right? And then these same people offer support and caring.

Which one is it?

Why should we trust these people now, and listen to what they say, weren’t they just threatening to rape me and then auction me off for 12 cigarettes? The same guards who made me waddle across the floor and quack like a duck? I‘d be pretty dumb to really believe them.

It looks like a recipe for every abusive domestic violence case I have ever seen: controlling and making their victims dependent through emotional manipulation.

And when these kids do break, what specialized training in therapeutic techniques do the guards and the inmates have to assist these youth? We cause trauma and then we heal it? [That’s] not really part of any treatment milieu with which I am familiar. 

Checking results [with a] one-month follow-up is meaningless as a recidivism measure. Check with behavioralists and see if that is an effective treatment modality.

Much like a drive down the interstate, when we see a police car on the side of the road we instinctively slow down. But once we get over the hill and see they are not following, we speed back up.

The deterrence effect lasts as long as the threat is real in our mind. Take the ultimate deterrence, capital punishment. Research has shown that there is a small dip in crime immediately after an execution, but that it goes back to normal levels soon after.

Out of sight, out of mind. Even more so for an adolescent mind.

***Alliance for Children and Families CEO Peter Goldberg was laid to rest in Wisconsin yesterday. Goldberg led the Milwaukee-based Alliance, one of the largest membership organizations for family and child services in the country, for 17 years. Goldberg suffered a heart attack while hiking in Maine last week with his wife, Betsy.

Alliance is mainly thought of as a group for nonprofits in the foster care and behavioral health world, but a fair number of members also contract with state and county juvenile justice agencies.

One of Goldberg’s legacies will certainly be the role Alliance played in helping many of its 360 members shift away from residential care and toward community-based programs.

“He was always looking around two corners,” said Dennis Richardson, CEO of Hillside Family of Agencies in New York. Hillside now serves 12,000 children who remain at home and about 1,000 in their facilities, which Richardson said is “absolutely a sea change” from the organization’s origin as a residential provider.

“Peter helped us imagine what Hillside would do as they found better alternatives to residential care,” Richardson said. “But he also challenged us to look for what might replace what replaced residential care.”

JJ Today interviewed Goldberg a few weeks ago just to catch up on what was going on with Alliance and what he was hearing from members lately. One concern he voiced was that fees for services offered to providers by some state governments had dwindled to the point of absurdity.

As scary a prospect as it would be for individual organizations, he said, more of them should be leaving states that don’t supply enough funding to do the work they demand.


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