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OP-ED: Attorney General’s Legacy Needs Shoring Up

Liz RyanLet's take a moment to review the accomplishments and legacy on youth justice issues of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. After six years, he announced his intentions last week to step down.

The ones that come to mind first are civil rights investigations in juvenile justice, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations and the Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.

Holder is perhaps best recognized in the youth justice category for his reinvigoration of the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Civil Rights Division.

An example of this is the administration of justice case in Shelby County, Tenn. This investigation, begun shortly after Holder was confirmed, found children didn’t have adequate due process protection before being transferred to adult criminal court.

The DOJ investigation also found racial disparities in the treatment of African-American children. An African-American child is twice as likely as a white child to be recommended for transfer to adult court, it found.

Of the 390 transfers to adult court in 2010 in Tennessee, about half were from Shelby County, and all but two of the total children transferred were African-American. DOJ officials are currently working with Shelby County officials to address the issues in the investigation.

Another accomplishment is the issuance of the long-awaited regulations to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2012.

Under these regulations, the Justice Department issued a new policy on youth in adult jails and prisons. The regulations state, “As a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.”

The regulations include a new federal standard to implement the policy, the Youthful Inmate Standard, which bans housing young people with the general adult population, prohibits contact between youth and adults in common areas, and ensures youth are constantly supervised by staff. Limits on the use of isolation are required. States are in the process of implementing the PREA regulations.

Most notable among the initiatives launched under Holder's tenure — the Access to Justice initiative, the Supportive School Discipline Initiative and the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention — where he personally devoted his time is the Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.

Through extensive public hearings, the task force heard from youth who were directly affected and their families about the violence children are exposed to in the justice system. The task force issued comprehensive recommendations, including a chapter on juvenile justice.

According to its report, "We should stop treating juvenile offenders as if they were adults, prosecuting them in adult courts, incarcerating them as adults, and sentencing them to harsh punishments that ignore their capacity to grow." This recommendation impacts an estimated 250,000 youth under 18 who are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system and the nearly 100,000 youth who are cycled through adult jails and prisons each year.

While many of these Holder-led efforts were lauded by the juvenile justice field, the hoped-for outcomes are still far from certain.

For example, the groundbreaking Shelby County case is still underway, and it is uncertain that the reforms will stick once DOJ leaves the county. This test case is crucial in Shelby County and throughout the state, for policy reforms could be enacted statewide. This case is also being watched closely around the country. The possibility of more cases like this in other jurisdictions could provide another crucial lever for policy reforms nationwide.

Holder needs to ensure followthrough on this case and see that its results are maximized for nationwide impact.

Another major accomplishment, the PREA regulations, is far from being a done deal.

States are in the first year of PREA implementation. PREA, a major opportunity to remove youth from adult jails and prisons, has accelerated these reforms in Illinois and Massachusetts.

However, Holder has been criticized for his limited enforcement and oversight. He has allowed states to provide written assurances in lieu of actual audits to ensure state compliance, and hasn't held accountable states that are flouting the law.

Further, Holder stood silent while the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted on an amendment to gut PREA enforcement, at the urging of state associations such as the National Governors' Association and the National Criminal Justice Association.

Holder needs to shore up the oversight and enforcement of PREA and ensure a smooth handoff to the next attorney general. A botched handoff could tank the implementation of this important opportunity to remove kids from adult jails and prisons.

And finally, findings from the report of the Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence remain largely unenacted and possibly abandoned.

The report was released on Dec. 12, 2012, at a national press event where Holder stated publicly that he wanted to implement all the recommendations in the report.

Attending this event in person so I could witness the report's unveiling, I was really excited to hear Holder's commitment because of the recommendations on juvenile justice, especially on halting the transfer of youth to adult criminal court.

That excitement has now been replaced with extreme frustration and disappointment. We've heard little about implementation except a few rumblings about a public awareness campaign, which may or may not have anything to do with the juvenile justice recommendations.

The Task Force's co-chair, Robert Listenbee, has become an Obama appointee as Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention. He is now in a position to lead the juvenile justice recommendations in the report.

With 843 days left in the Obama administration, Holder needs to shore up these key youth justice initiatives as he prepares to hand off the baton. Let's hope the new attorney general stays on track to close out this administration with a strong finish.

Our kids are depending on it.

Liz Ryan is a campaign strategist, youth justice policy expert, and civil and human rights advocate. Follow Liz on Twitter @LizRyanYJ.

OP-ED: Yes to Equal Treatment; No to Equally Bad Treatment

LRyanIn a July 25, 2014, editorial, “Equal Treatment is in Order for Iowa's Troubled Juveniles," The Des-Moines Register argues that girls are now worse off than boys because the Toledo juvenile home has been closed. The editorial says that “delinquent girls should have the same opportunities for treatment, rehabilitation and education as boys,” concluding that girls and boys should be “treated equally by Iowa's juvenile justice system.”

Girls had previously been at the Toledo juvenile home under harsh and inhumane conditions. Governor Branstad closed the facility because of reports that girls were being placed in isolation for months at a time and were not receiving adequate education. With Toledo closed, the juvenile justice system has responded with harsher sanctions for girls. Girls appear to be much worse off than boys in Iowa's juvenile justice system as a result: Three girls have subsequently been sent to the adult criminal justice system and three to facilities out-of-state.

While the editorial asserts that “very few [girls] need to reside in a locked facility,” the editorial seems to imply that the state should build a new facility for court-involved girls.

However, gender equity should not mean that girls and boys have access to the same inhumane, harmful and ineffective treatment in the juvenile justice system. That is, addressing gender disparities in Iowa's juvenile justice system should not mean building another youth prison for girls to replace the Toledo facility for these reasons.

First, the abuse in youth prisons is well documented in lawsuits, news reports and from incarcerated youth themselves, and Iowa is no exception.

Over the past four decades, 57 lawsuits have been filed in 33 states on conditions of confinement for youth in youth prisons. These lawsuits cite abuses such as physical and sexual assault, excessive use of force and restraints by staff, as well as isolation and solitary confinement of youth.

When surveyed by the U.S. Department of Justice, 42 percent of incarcerated youth were somewhat or very afraid of being physically attacked, 45 percent said staff used force when they didn’t need to and 30 percent said staff place youth in solitary confinement or lock them up as discipline.

Second, these conditions have a profoundly negative and life-long impact on youth. Research demonstrates that placing youth in youth prisons is iatrogenic. In other words, youth are worse off after being incarcerated. Incarceration in youth prisons is a significant predictor of involvement in the adult criminal justice system and of early mortality. Confinement in a youth prison also puts kids further behind in school, and upon release from youth prisons, few youth re-enroll in school and many often experience difficulties finding employment.

Further, placement in youth prisons puts financial strains on families and breaks crucial family ties. According to an analysis by the National Center on Juvenile Justice, Iowa and every other state either requires or allows parents to be charged for the cost of their children's incarceration. Parents are assessed incarceration fees for their children even if the facility is poorly run with abysmal conditions. Many parents and families do not have regular contact with their children due to distance, travel time and expense to get to the facility, even though the majority of incarcerated youth want to maintain contact with their family.

In addition, youth reoffending rates increase after youth are in youth prisons. While comparisons are difficult to assess because states calculate reoffending rates differently, data from the comprehensive No Place for Kids report shows that 70-80 percent of youth are rearrested within two to three years of release.

Finally, the cost ought to be cause for reconsideration. On average, states spend $241 per day or $88,000 per year to place a youth into a youth prison. By contrast, effective community based alternatives to incarceration cost $75 per day. And these costs do not even factor in the “opportunity cost,” i.e. the lost value of benefits if funds were used more productively.

Instead of building another youth prison for Iowa's court-involved girls or even a small subset of them, Iowa policymakers should consider what the research tells us and reject the obsolete youth prison approach that hasn't worked for boys, much less girls, and adopt best practices for court-involved youth.

A report released by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy, "Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States," encourages policymakers to invest in gender- and culturally-responsive, trauma-informed services and supports for girls in the community.

Gender equity is a worthy goal that should be strived for. Girls should not be worse off than the boys in the juvenile justice system, which the editorial so rightly points out.

This situation is not just a chance to correct gender disparity, however. It is an opportunity to fundamentally transform a flawed system for both girls and boys. Iowa children deserve no less.

Liz Ryan is a campaign strategist, youth justice policy expert, and civil and human rights advocate. Follow Liz on Twitter @LizRyanYJ.

OP-ED: Protect Kids From Rape in Adult Jails and Prisons, Don’t Delay PREA

Liz Ryan, Founder and of Campaign for Youth Justice.
Liz Ryan, Founder and of Campaign for Youth Justice.

In an attempt to put a positive spin on their efforts to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), federal Department of Justice officials held a news conference May 28 in which they indicated that a majority of states intended to comply with the law.

Deputy Attorney General David Cole and Mary Lou Leary, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, specifically named seven states — Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and Utah — that do not intend to comply with PREA.

The Justice Department's glowing report does not seem to square with a May 14 letter from the National Governors Association (NGA) asking Attorney General Eric Holder to delay the implementation time frame for PREA.

My experience with the NGA during my tenure in Delaware Gov. Tom Carper's office is that a letter doesn't go out from the NGA unless there is strong consensus among the governors on the issue. Given that, Holder should, at a minimum, make all the individual governors' letters available to the public so we can know for sure where individual states stand and if a majority really do intend to comply.

More importantly, Holder should not delay the law's implementation or let any governor off the hook for not complying with PREA for the following reasons.

First, the states have had years of standards, regulations and guidance to assist with compliance already.

The law passed more than a decade ago. The PREA law was unanimously approved by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003. The passage of this law was led by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, many of whom are still in Congress.

Standards and regulations have been issued over the past five years. National standards were issued in 2009 by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), as required by Congress. Draft regulations were issued in 2011. And final regulations were issued two years ago in May 2012.

Guidance has been readily available to the states. The U.S. Department of Justice set up the PREA Resource Center, which has provided a website resource, numerous webinars and trainings all over the country. The NGA itself co-hosted a webinar with the PREA Resource Center in March 2014 for governors offices on PREA compliance.

How much more time and guidance do the governors really need on this?

Second, states and localities have received millions of dollars for PREA implementation.

Since 2003, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has issued more than $50 million in federal grants to state and local jurisdictions in more than half the states for PREA implementation.

The governors want a delay even though they've received millions in federal funds to implement PREA already?

It is even more appalling that nearly all of the states that Justice Department officials say won't comply have received millions in federal grants for PREA compliance: Arizona ($300,000), Florida ($1.26 million), Idaho ($1.4 million), Indiana ($1.9 million), Nebraska ($644,000) and Texas ($3.5 million).

Shouldn't there be some accountability for these funds from the Justice Department?

Third: 100,000 kids.

That's how many kids cycle through adult jails and prisons every year.

Under the PREA regulations, the Department of Justice states that: “As a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.” The regulations include the Youthful Inmate Standard, which bans the housing of young people in the general adult population, prohibits contact between youth and adults in common areas, and ensures youth are constantly supervised by staff. At the same time, the regulations require limitations on the use of isolation in complying with the standard.

This standard is consistent with the recent report issued by the U.S. Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, co-chaired by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator Bob Listenbee. The report concludes that, “We should stop treating juvenile offenders as if they were adults, prosecuting them in adult courts, incarcerating them as adults, and sentencing them to harsh punishments that ignore their capacity to grow.”

Best practices and the PREA Resource Center's guidance recommends that youth be removed from adult jails and prisons and be placed in juvenile detention and correctional facilities where they are more likely to receive developmentally appropriate services, educational programming and support by trained staff.

By allowing for a delay in implementing PREA or letting states off the hook, kids will continue to be exposed to the dangers of adult jails and prisons.

Holder should not cave to the NGA's request to delay PREA implementation. Further, he must take a more visible and aggressive stance in engaging the governors who intend to flout the law.

Holder's actions could ensure the safety of thousands of children who are now exposed to sexual violence in adult jails and prisons.

Liz Ryan is a campaign strategist, youth justice policy expert, and civil and human rights advocate. Follow Liz on Twitter @LizRyanYJ.

OP-ED: Don’t Shelve the Report, Mr. Attorney General

LRyanHow many times have we heard this kind of statement from government officials, "This report will be different, it won't just sit on a shelf" and then the report just sat on a shelf?

Too often, right?

My shelves are littered with reports created by various government task forces with recommendations that have never been implemented.  These reports serve as bookends for yet more reports that I've put on my shelves.

I had hoped that this time it would actually be different.

By appointing this high-level task force, it appeared that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was making youth impacted by the justice system a priority. When the report was released on December 12, 2012, the attorney general stated that he wanted to ensure that all the recommendations in the report were implemented.

Nearly a year and a half later, there’s still no administration plan to implement the task force recommendations.

At the task force’s first hearing in Baltimore on November 29, 2011, Jabriera Handy testified about her experience in the adult criminal justice system in Maryland. Jabriera had never testified publicly in this kind of national forum and demonstrated tremendous courage in coming forward. She stated at the hearing, “Words can’t explain what I went through in the adult system ... To get to school we had to walk through a tunnel that went through the adult men’s jail. One day the facility went on lockdown. We were told to turn our backs and close our eyes. But in jail you learn to never turn your back or close your eyes. That day, we saw a man get stabbed to death.”

In advocating on behalf of the 250,000 young people under age 18 who are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system and the 100,000 youth who are cycled through adult jails and prisons each year, Jabriera concluded her testimony by saying, “I urge the task force to recommend that the nation’s governors and state lawmakers end the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth in the adult criminal justice system to reduce recidivism and children’s exposure to violence.”

Thanks to Jabriera's courageous testimony, along with others, the task force report encompasses the priorities of the juvenile justice community, including a solid recommendation about youth in the adult criminal justice system. The report states that, “We should stop treating juvenile offenders as if they were adults, prosecuting them in adult courts, incarcerating them as adults, and sentencing them to harsh punishments that ignore their capacity to grow.”

As with many of the report’s recommendations, there is broad consensus about this recommendation as it reflects the policies of the major professional stakeholder associations such as the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association, the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, and the National Association of Counties.

And it is strongly backed by the latest research. The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have undertaken or funded research that shows the ineffectiveness of juvenile transfer laws at deterring juvenile delinquency or decreasing reoffending rates.

Many state officials have moved ahead on their own in 2013 and 2014 by approving new laws on juvenile justice that include ways to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult court and remove children from adult jails and prisons.

Illinois and Massachusetts passed new laws in 2013 to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18. Missouri enacted “Jonathan’s Law” to give more youth an opportunity at rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system. Also in 2013, Nevada and Indiana enacted new laws to keep kids out of adult jails and prisons.

Recently, Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland signed a bill that would give youth more opportunities at rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system, rather than the adult criminal justice system. Jabriera Handy and her colleagues at the Just Kids Maryland campaign, a project of Community Law in Action (CLIA), worked hard to get this new law passed.

With so much support, it should be different this time. The AG's task force report recommendations must be swiftly enacted throughout the country with the full weight of the Attorney General and backed by Justice Department resources and technical assistance.

Don't let this report sit on the shelf Mr. Attorney General. Make good on your commitment and get moving on implementation.

Liz Ryan is a campaign strategist, youth justice policy expert, and civil and human rights advocate. To stay in touch with Liz, follow her on twitter @LizRyanYJ.

OP-ED: House and Senate Committees Gut Funding to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System

LRyanThis past week, the House and Senate Appropriators approved substantial reductions in juvenile justice funding, including critical funding to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. The House bill contains only $20 million for all states to implement Title II of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The Senate bill recommends $50 million. Both are well below the president’s proposed $70 million.

We shouldn’t let them make these cuts and here’s why:

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was established in 1974 to provide federal standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system. Title II of the law, which articulates core protections for system-involved youth to help states ensure young people are treated fairly and humanely, was updated more than 20 years ago with the “Disproportionate Minority Confinement” (DMC) provision. This provision requires that states, as a condition of receiving federal funds, identify and address the disproportionate confinement of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

In the most recent JJDPA reauthorization more than a decade ago, the term “confinement” was changed to “contact,” emphasizing the racial and ethnic disparities faced by youth of color at all points in the juvenile justice system. “DMC is a critical issue in the juvenile justice system because it is an issue of basic fairness,” says national expert Mark Soler, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy.

The DMC provision was added to Title II of the law and later refined because of the evidence of huge disparities in the treatment of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. For example, African-American youth make up only 17 percent of the nation’s total youth population, but African-American youth constitute 30 percent of the youth arrested nationwide and 62 percent of all youth in the adult criminal justice system. Latino and Native American youth experience similar unfairness within the juvenile justice system. Latino children, the fastest-growing segment of the American population, represent 23 percent of all children under the age of 18.

At the same time, Latino youth are 40 percent more likely than white youth to be admitted to adult prison. Finally, Native American youth receive harsher sentences, with a 50 percent higher likelihood than white youth to receive out-of-home placement or to be placed in the adult system.

“Having an over-representation of young people of color in confinement means that those young people’s life outcomes are seriously diminished,” says James Bell, one of the nation’s leaders on efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and Founder and Executive Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute. “And that is why we as a society should care mightily about this.”

These facts are often undermined by a false impression that youth of color commit more crime than white youth. That is simply not true. Results from self-report surveys indicate that white youth are in fact significantly more likely than youth of color to use drugs and alcohol, sell drugs, and engage in minor theft. Although white youth admit high drug use, African-American youth are twice as likely to be arrested and detained and as a group account for 87 percent of all youth tried in adult court for drug offenses.

The JJDPA’s DMC provision has ensured funding to every state to reduce these stark racial and ethnic disparities. There are promising efforts in a number of states. Take, for example, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) and the Models for Change (MfC) project, which have shown that disparities can be reduced when stakeholders work effectively together. The federal Title II JJDPA funds have been a major funding source in these efforts.

Congress’ proposed funding cuts come in the aftermath of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division's three-year investigation into the operations of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County Tennessee and found extensive racial disparities in the treatment of African-American children: African-American youth are twice as likely as white youth to be recommended for transfer to adult court. Of the 390 transfers to adult court in 2010 in Tennessee, approximately one half were from Shelby County, and all but two of the total children transferred were African-American.

The DOJ investigation highlights the need to redouble efforts nationally to do more, not less, to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. The federal juvenile justice funds are crucial to the success of these efforts around the country.

If the House and Senate Appropriations Committees prevail, funding for the JJDPA, including the DMC provision, will be substantially cut at a time when those resources are so clearly needed.

Congress must step up and preserve, not gut, federal funding to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. All of our youth deserve more.

 

OP-ED: President’s Budget Includes Crucial Funding for Juvenile Justice

LRyanThis year, President Barack Obama's budget reflects more of the juvenile justice field's priorities than ever before. These funding proposals will be crucial in advancing juvenile justice reforms in a number of ways.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has provided critical federal funding for nearly 40 years, under the Title II formula grant funds, to states to comply with a set of minimum requirements designed to protect children and meet their unique needs. The president’s budget includes $70 million under Title II for states to utilize in keeping status offenders from being detained, removing children from adult jails and lock ups, and reducing the disparate treatment of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

The “deinstitutionalization of status offenders” or “DSO provision,” applies to young people whose actions would not be considered offenses at the age of majority, such as skipping school, running away, breaking curfew and possession or use of alcohol.

The DSO provision was designed to ensure that these youth, who often have unmet mental health or education needs, receive help from the appropriate human services agency rather than the justice system.

The JJDPA’s Jail Removal provision has ensured funding to every state to help them keep children adjudicated in the juvenile system out of adult jails and lockups. When this provision was adopted in 1980, there were an estimated 300,000 children in adult jails and lock ups annually throughout the country. Since then, this core protection has effectively stopped the placement of hundreds of thousands of children in facilities every year.

And the JJDPA’s “Disproportionate Minority Contact” (DMC) provision requires states to address the disproportionate confinement of youth of color at key points in the juvenile justice system. For example, African-American youth make up only 17 percent of the nation’s total youth population, but African-American youth constitute 30 percent of the youth arrested nationwide and 62 percent of all youth in the adult criminal justice system. Latino and Native American youth experience similar unfairness within the juvenile justice system. Latino children represent 23 percent of all children under 18 but are 40 percent more likely than white youth to be admitted to adult prison. Native American youth are 50 percent more likely than white youth to receive out-of-home placement or to be placed in the adult system.

In addition to using federal funds to meet the core requirements of the JJDPA, states (such as Maryland and Virginia) have used Title II formula funds to reduce the inappropriate use of detention by creating alternatives to detention. Also Title II funds are used in some states to keep youth out of the system through diversion programs such as one in Vermont where almost all 16- and 17-year-olds years are prosecuted in adult criminal court.

The president’s budget also includes resources for the first time ever to assist jurisdictions in reducing the use of incarceration.

While youth incarceration is at a 40-year low, according to a recently released report, “Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States”, issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, much more needs to be done to reduce the wasteful, dangerous and inappropriate incarceration of youth in the justice system. These funds can serve as a catalyst to accelerate substantial reductions in youth incarceration, including eliminating the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons.

And the president’s budget proposes some funding for grants to address the needs of girls in the juvenile justice system. While this is a modest step, it provides a hook by which to advance best practices, such as those featured in the “Improving the Justice System for Girls” report.

With this budget, the Obama administration recognizes that targeted federal investments in state and local juvenile justice programs can improve outcomes for youth. Our challenge will be to ensure that Congress enacts it.

No More Delays Mr. President: Appoint the Nation’s Next Juvenile Justice Chief

Four years ago, President Obama was inaugurated, and we expected that within a few months the President would nominate a permanent administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). But this past week, as President Obama renewed the oath of office, we are still waiting. Each administration since the office was created in 1974 has made the appointment except President Obama’s.

The President should end this delay and here's why:

The OJJDP is the leading federal agency responsible for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention issues. Created under the landmark Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974, the OJJDP plays a vital role in assisting state and local governments in addressing juvenile delinquency through federal grants, research and guidance. For nearly 40 years, the OJJDP has helped states to create and sustain effective approaches to reduce juvenile delinquency, and develop programs that are cost-effective, improve public safety and treat court-involved youth appropriately.

The OJJDP administrator articulates a national juvenile justice agenda that is based on research on what works and what doesn’t, as well as on adolescent development, and helps states use the research, and implement best practices in reforming their juvenile justice systems.

In particular, the administrator’s role is to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of the main federal piece of juvenile justice legislation, the JJDPA, which has provided critical federal funding to states to comply with a set of core requirements designed to protect children and meet their unique needs.

While successful, the JJDPA could be substantially strengthened to address more of the pressing needs in the juvenile justice field, such as reducing the overuse of incarceration, reducing racial and ethnic disparities and closing the loopholes that allow some status offenders to be detained and some youth to be placed in adult jails, despite the original intentions of the law.

Further, the administrator advocates for juvenile justice funding appropriations from Congress. Unfortunately, for more than a decade, federal juvenile justice funding has steadily declined -- down 83 percent from 1999 to 2010 -- and the appropriations caps contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 have only accelerated the pace of cuts.

The JJDPA has been sorely underfunded, and has not been updated in more than a decade; it continues to languish. Neither the House nor the Senate has introduced reauthorization bills this past session, and the Obama administration has been surprisingly silent on the matter.

Given the importance of this appointment, why the delay?

It's not clear to this advocate.

There's been no shortage of good candidates willing to take on this job. The White House has received names and resumes on numerous occasions, and now that the Senate confirmation requirement has been removed the administration can make this appointment without approval from the Senate.

Juvenile justice stakeholders have made hundreds of calls, written letters and contacted key White House officials. Still, there has been no response.

Members of Congress have also asked about the delay, including some House members who wrote to the President.

And several news outlets have editorialized on this, including The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, whose editorial declares "It's well past time for Obama to name a leader for the office." The Washington Post editorial states, "A lengthy vacancy at the top in the federal office charged with combating juvenile delinquency and improving conditions of youth incarceration requires President Obama's swift attention."

No more delays Mr. President. It's been long enough. We need a juvenile justice expert and a leader as the nation's next OJJDP administrator. And we need one now.