Senate Subcommittee Approves Funding for OJJDP, Full Vote Expected Today

Flickr | Will Palmer

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science approved 2012 funding for a number of agencies at a meeting yesterday. Among programs receiving funds are the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), approved for $251 million.

YouthToday has a breakdown of where the OJJDP funds are to be spent:

-$60 million for the Missing and Exploited Children Programs.

-$55 million for mentoring grants.

-$45 million for state formula grants, given to states on the condition that they adhere to basic standards in regard to the detainment of juveniles, and address racial disparities in the system.

-$33 million for delinquency prevention grants to be dispersed by state advisory groups, although Congress often designates the majority of it for grants to Native American tribes and enforcement of underage drinking laws.

-$30 million for Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG), which go to state juvenile justice planning agencies based on the size of a state’s youth population.

-$20 million for the Victims of Child Abuse Programs.

-$8 million for the Community-Based Violence Prevention Initiative, a project conceived by the Obama administration in 2009.

The full committee will meet later today to mark up the bill. A vote on the appropriations is also expected.

Much of the funding for OJJDP falls under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has not been reauthorized since 2002 despite repeated attempts in both the Senate and House. Advocates and lawmakers are seeking reforms to the bill’s core protections they say will keep children in the system safer.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the reauthorization bill in the Senate in 2008 where it was voted out of committee. Leahy reintroduced the bill in 2009 but the House failed to take it up.

“There hasn’t been much action on it lately,” said Eric Solomon, Director of Media and Communications for the Campaign for Youth Justice. “The House never did anything with it [in 2010]. Hard to say what’s on their agenda.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Leahy said he is “working to streamline the legislation given budget concerns.”

In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that included significant cuts to juvenile justice funding, authorizing $50 million less than the Senate for OJJDP programs. The $200 million appropriation reduces funding for state formula grants under the JJDPA and eliminates entirely funding for juvenile justice demonstration grants, Juvenile Accountability Block Grants and Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants.

House Approps May Gut Spending on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act

U.S. House of RepresentativesThe House subcommittee that oversees Justice Department funding produced an appropriations bill this week that would slash activities authorized by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 2012.

The draft bill, marked up by the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and State (CJS), would not fund demonstration grants, Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG) or Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants. In 2010, the last year Congress actually passed an appropriations package, those three streams totaled $231 million.

The bill would also drop state formula grants – given to states on the condition that they adhere to basic standards in regard to the detainment of juveniles, and address racial disparities in the system – from $75 million in 2010 to $40 million.

The full appropriations committee will vote on the proposed funding levels for Justice on Wednesday, July 13, according to a memo published by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice on its website.

Many in the juvenile justice field have been unhappy with the way that the funding streams now on the chopping block were spent. Title V grants were intended to be given to state advisory groups to develop efforts to prevent juvenile crime; in recent years they were almost entirely allocated by Congress to enforcement of underage drinking laws, tribal areas and gang intervention.

Demonstration grants, which once funded coordinated efforts at research and pilot testing of juvenile justice strategies, became an earmark trough for congressmen.

President Barack Obama originally proposed in his 2012 budget to eliminate formula and JABG funding in favor of a Race to the Top-style incentive grant program, where conforming to basic standards was only a state’s ticket into the competition for big system improvement grants.

After a steady stream of criticism from advocates, the administration revised its budget proposal with most of the grants intact with only a small carve-out for its incentive grant concept.

The CJS subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), does not propose to use savings from the formula grants or JABG for a new incentive program.

The subcommittee proposes $83 million for mentoring activities, which is $17 million less than 2010 appropriations.

New DJJ Commissioner Talks To Lawmakers About Budget

The harsh realities of the new year’s budget woes continue to sink in for Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) brass. Newly appointed Commissioner Amy Howell has formally shared the governor’s budget recommendations with members of the House and Senate appropriations committee.

In a 20-minute budget hearings presentation Wednesday Howell, a former DJJ deputy commissioner, outlined the agency’s structure, highlighted challenges that further revenue slashes could impose and emphasized the critical role that legislative support would play in helping the agency continue to fulfill its mission. In his first state-of the-state address last week, new Governor Nathan Deal proposed cutting all agency budgets by four percent on average during the rest of the fiscal year ending in June and another seven percent during fiscal 2012.

“We’re very cognizant of the incredible difficult economic times that the state is facing and we know that these difficulties are across the board for all agencies,” says DJJ spokeswoman Scheree Moore. “But we also want to make sure that we are serving the right youth in the right place. We are a public safety agency, but we are also an agency that is charged with serving the youth. We’re going to have to get some legislative support to allow us to do what we need to do.”

In light of the rapidly shrinking supply of detention beds, Howell urged for more sentencing flexibility that would allow DJJ to place certain higher risk, regular committed youth in YDC beds rather than in the community which would better preserve public safety.

Among the strategies Howell shared in her presentation include:

  • Approve legislation that would allow juvenile court judges to modify the sentences for designated felons who have demonstrated that he or she has been rehabilitated and have successfully completed all educational and program requirements. “The minimum is 12 months now and this would allow that to be changed to six to 60 months,” says Moore. “This would allow the judges greater discretion to determine the proper amount of accountability based upon the individual case. This would, for example, be considered in the case of a kid who has done everything he was supposed to do; he’s gotten his GED or vocational training or certificate. He has done all he needed to do. This would give the judges discretion to allow that child to leave earlier. A judge, for example, might put him on probation.”
  • Close two 30-bed Regional Youth Development Centers (RYDCs). “We’re not sure which ones right now,” adds Moore. “We initially had some on the list but those are currently being evaluated. We are analyzing population data and the utilization rates; how often is that facility used by that particular county. These short term strategies will allow us to better manage population.”
  • Legislate the use of a Detention Assessment Instrument (DAI), an assessment tool that provides judges with objective information about a youth to determine whether he or she should or should not be detained. “It’s not required now, but we are proposing that it should be,” says Moore. “It’s an assessment tool for judges.”
  • Maintain a hiring freeze that would leave the current 49 vacancies unfilled.
  • Eliminate paid overtime for employees.
  • Eliminate 11 administrative positions.
  • Eliminate 11 education positions. “This means class sizes would change in the RYDCs,” notes Moore.

The  cuts come on the heels of an especially daunting few years for DJJ. Last year alone, the state agency of some 4,300 employees who oversee about 20,000 youngsters, eliminated 344 detention center beds. “Macon YDC [Youth Detention Centers] decreased its number of beds by 44,” she says. “We lost 300 more beds at Bill Ireland [YDC] last year after we closed it.”

Since fiscal year 2009, according to Moore, DJJ has:

  • Slashed $76.5 million from its coffers, roughly 23.5 percent of its budget. “Eighty-eight percent of those cuts came from personal services and service benefits to children,” she says.
  • Cut its workforce by 623 employees.

Legislators will get to vote on the budget, before it goes back to Governor Deal.

“We don’t want to sound like we’re complaining; we know that all agencies are experiencing this, but as an agency that serves children we have some major concerns,” Moore says. “We have to come up with strategies that will allow us to meet our goals. We don’t want to get caught up with another MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] from the Justice Department. We need to make sure that we are making policy decisions that are real and don’t impact the services we provide.”

Adds Moore: “Any further reduction of beds may create overcrowding [in detention centers]. It could threaten our compliance with the MOA and our ability to deliver on our Constitutional requirements.”


Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and Atlanta, People and Essence magazines.