The federal office responsible for supporting juvenile justice programs around the country is in the process of reorganizing its internal structure, with planned changes likely to address the role independent research should play in shaping federal policies and initiatives for improving the treatment of juveniles by states and territories.
A proposal to restructure the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a component of the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice, has been cleared by human resources personnel and is awaiting approval by acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, according to a briefing provided by OJJDP to members of its federal advisory committee on juvenile justice last week.
Catherine Pierce, advisor to OJJDP acting Administrator Melodee Hanes, provided the update last Friday to the federal advisory committee at an online meeting that was open to the public. Reached at her office this week, Pierce said she could not provide further details on the reorganization plan until it had been approved and shared with office staff.
The office rebuffed multiple attempts by Youth Today to learn details of the proposed restructuring. The plan will be made public this fall, according to an office representative.
However, clues to the reorganization proposal can be found in online documents, including the April minutes of a web-only meeting of the federal advisory committee, which describe an update on the restructuring by Hanes.
“The goal is to have the Office structure look like the work OJJDP does, that is prevention, community development, and innovation,” Hanes told the committee members in the web meeting on April 20, according to the minutes.
But it’s the question of where researchers belong within the OJJDP that appears to have sparked talk of reorganization at all, according to documents available on the Office of Justice Programs website that detail internal discussions.
The last reorganization of the OJJDP occurred in 2003, under Administrator J. Robert Flores, an appointee of President George W. Bush. According to the office’s 2003-2004 annual report, that new structure embedded research personnel within four streamlined office units: an Office of Policy Development, and program divisions for Child Protection, Demonstration Programs, and State Relations and Assistance.
In June this year, Mark Lipsey, a Vanderbilt University professor who chairs the OJJDP subcommittee for the Science Advisory Board at the Office of Justice Programs within the Department of Justice, filed a progress report describing consultations with former OJJDP administrators and research directors about another possible restructuring. Available online, Lipsey’s account offers the most detail available so far on the reorganization planning process. A message left at Lipsey’s Vanderbilt number was not returned by deadline.
Soon after Hanes took over as acting office administrator in January, Lipsey’s subcommittee and OJJDP leaders began consultations with former OJJDP leadership, including Shay Bilchik, Betty Chemers, Buddy Howell and John Wilson, to get their feedback on how research activities have historically intersected with organizational dynamics, Lipsey wrote.
“We were mainly interested in their views about whether support for research was better served by a dedicated research unit at OJJDP or by a dispersed arrangement with researchers embedded in all the units,” Lipsey wrote.
“In former times, OJJDP was organized with a separate research division (Research and Program Development). Currently there is no separate research division and the research functions and associated personnel are dispersed across the other units,” Lipsey wrote. “A particularly salient question for the reorganization plan, therefore, is whether the research functions and personnel should be more consolidated than they are currently.”
The consultations revealed how strongly former OJJDP leaders felt about the central role research plays in the office’s national leadership on juvenile justice, Lipsey wrote.
Their recommendations were nearly unanimous.
“We heard virtually no support in our conversations with the former administrators for the dispersed model of research support,” he wrote.
A dispersed system does not allow for a director or similar leader of research who has the organizational rank to advocate for his unit at the topmost levels of management, Lipsey was told. Coordinating research activities and developing a supportive research culture across divisions can also be a challenge.
Moreover, a dispersed system makes research findings less visible to field practitioners and researchers outside the office, the former administrators told Lipsey.
“Similarly, the centrality and importance of research at OJJDP, and its research-oriented functions and contributions, are less visible to Congress, undermining the ability to advocate for adequate support for those functions and contributions,” Lipsey said he was told.
But despite the near-unanimous support for once more consolidating research functions within OJJDP, the subcommittee expressed concerns whether unifying research activities would leave such a unit vulnerable to political pressure, or open up the possibility of a transfer of its duties to the National Institute of Justice, the research and development branch of the Department of Justice.
Even those consulted in the planning process do not appear to know what ultimately made it into the reorganization plan.
When contacted by Youth Today, Howell said he could not comment on the proposal until he had seen it. Chemers declined to comment for this story, saying her organization, the National Academies, is completing a two-year study with funding from the OJJDP. Bilchik could not be reached as he is on vacation until Aug. 20.
Although he was not consulted in the planning process and does not know details about the restructuring proposal, Ira Schwartz, who served as the office administrator under President Jimmy Carter, said he wasn’t surprised to hear that reorganization was under consideration. He also supports consolidating the research function of the office.
“I think it is better to keep it (research) separate from the program side so it can take a more objective view of things,” Schwartz said, adding that when he led the office, the National Institute of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention served as the research arm of the OJJDP.
The integration of researchers within OJJDP’s program divisions has blunted their effectiveness, Schwartz said.
Since 2003, “You didn’t hear anything about the research that was done,” he said. “It had very little impact on public policy.”