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State Advisors to Federal Juvenile Justice Office Briefed on Reforms

Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice meeting in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirteen advocates and professionals from around the country who serve as advisors to the federal office for juvenile justice met for two days last week in Washington, D.C., to share information on reforms and funding at the state and federal levels.

The Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which normally meets online every few months, gathered face-to-face for the first time in a year. Its last online meeting occurred Aug. 10. 

Some of the reforms the committee discussed lie within the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself. Melodee Hanes, the acting office administrator, told committee members on the opening day of the meeting that a structural reorganization of her office, which has been in the works for months, would be announced soon. The office is also close to releasing its program plan for next year, she said.

The associate administrator for budget and planning, Janet Chiancone, described to the committee a “mixed” outlook for federal funding for juvenile justice in the 2013 fiscal year. Federal money for programs administered by the federal juvenile justice office has steadily fallen from $461.5 million in fiscal year 2009 to $277 million in fiscal year 2012, a 41 percent decline, she said.

Although the 2013 fiscal year began Oct. 1, a gridlocked Congress has yet to reach a budget deal. The proposed House budget for 2013 further slashes funds for OJJDP programs to $214 million, while the Senate version increases funding from last year’s level for the OJJDP to $299.5 million, she said. Both chambers are in recess until after the presidential election.

On Friday, committee members were briefed on changes in federal and state legislation on juvenile justice in recent years, trends that speakers said were driven by falling rates of juvenile crime, declining youth incarceration rates, the availability of better research and a shift away from treating children like adults under the law.

Friday’s speakers included Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Washington-D.C.-

Bart Lubow

based Coalition for Juvenile Justice – a network of citizens, advocates and professionals from every state who advise their local governments on juvenile justice issues and monitor their adherence to federal guidelines -- and Bart Lubow, director of the juvenile justice strategy group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that has played a key role in funding reform initiatives around the country.

Sarah Brown, a senior researcher at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group of state legislators and their staff, described her recent report on trends in state legislation on juvenile justice in the last 10 years.

Speaking from Colorado via videoconference, Brown pointed to three separate rulings since 2005 by the U.S. Supreme Court that have adjusted federal standards for juvenile sentencing by abolishing the death penalty, life sentences without parole for non-homicides, and mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles. These rulings reflect the impact of new research on adolescent development and highlight how many states are shifting toward treating juvenile offenders differently than adults, she said.

Between 2001 and 2011, 20 states passed laws to expand the jurisdiction of juvenile courts, such as by raising the age limit for juvenile offenses, she said. Other state trends include the passage of legislation improving young people’s access to sound legal defense, reallocating funds from correctional facilities to community-based alternatives, and focusing on young people’s mental health needs.

At least 10 states have passed laws to address racial disparities in the detention and incarceration of youth in the last 10 years, Brown said. And more than half of all states have passed laws aimed at supporting young people once they are released from detention or confinement.

Hornberger, who has lobbied Congress for system reform for 25 years, provided historical perspective on the trends affecting federal policy changes and provided recommendations for future legislation, including the long-overdue reauthorization of a sweeping federal bill on juvenile justice that was first passed by Congress in 1974.

“Generally, Congress has regarded juvenile justice and delinquency prevention to be a limited role,” Hornberger said. However, the 1970s brought a significant shift in the way people thought about the detention and incarceration of youth, their treatment as status offenders, their placement in adult jails, and their separation from adult offenders by sight and sound, she said.

The resulting federal legislation, the sweeping Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, marked “a sea change” that forced states to meet federal standards on how to treat youth within the justice system, Hornberger said. Subsequent reauthorizations of the Act in the 1980s and 1990s added more requirements for states, including new rules asking states to explore racial disparities in their confinement of youth.

Last reauthorized 10 years ago, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was due for reauthorization again in 2007 but has languished in Congress. Although a U.S. Senate committee has twice approved the reauthorization in recent years, the bills did not make it to the Senate floor. The House of Representatives has not acted on a reauthorization bill nor any legislation to do with juvenile justice in the last six years, Hornberger said.

Hornberger remains stoic. The 2002 reauthorization took six years to push through, she said. “It’s always been a long haul to get this Act reauthorized.”

In general, federal policy on juvenile justice has traditionally swung like a pendulum, with equilibrium rarely in the middle, she said. “Members of Congress are consistently going back and forth between punitive and rehabilitative approaches.”

Policy swings are frequently affected by changes in leadership, whether in the White House, on congressional committees, or within the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself, she said.

Congressional legislation still demonstrates a trend toward criminalizing normal adolescent behavior, such as underage drinking or sexting, Hornberger said. And federal legislators are still wrestling with the choices of institutionalized care versus family and community-based solutions, she said.

“There have been trends in time where national policy has really spurred state reforms,” like in the 1970s, Hornberger said. But these days, national policy is playing catch-up with reforms initiated by national foundations and some states, she added.

While federal trends in legislation and policy so far appear promising, the legislative progress is fragile, she warned -- especially in critical areas like the consideration of adolescent development and racial and ethnic disparities.

Speaking after Hornberger, Lubow gave a spirited presentation that made clear he too thought there was lots of room for improvement.

For every 100,000 young people in the United States, 336 are locked up, the highest rate in the developed world, he said. South Africa is in second place, at nearly one-fifth the rate of the United States. This could not be explained by disparities in juvenile crime, he said.

“We lock kids up in this country for a lot of minor stuff. In fact, we lock them up for things that we do not lock adults up for,” Lubow said. “We do that, frankly, because adults are bullies. When we get frustrated with kids who do not follow our rules, we throw them into detention centers.”

What would happen, he asked, if judges and law enforcement could not fall back upon incarcerating kids when they were angered and frustrated by their behavior? “What positions, what creativity, what alternatives would we come up with?” he asked.

Necessary innovations include limiting the types of young offenders who get incarcerated, increasing non-residential community alternatives to incarceration, and changing the financial incentives for local governments to keep their children within their own system and not the state’s, Lubow said.

Sometimes reforms only happen after someone takes off a shoe and bangs it on the table, Lubow told the committee.

Photos by Kaukab Jhumra Smith

Bart Lubow: Cutting Youth Incarceration Doesn’t Cut Public Safety

Bart Lubow, who has been working for more than 20 years to reduce the number of youth being sent to detention centers, told a gathering of approximately 700 conference attendees this morning that now “may prove to be a unique moment in juvenile justice history, a time when, as a nation, we shed some of the system’s worst baggage—including our unnecessary and often inappropriate reliance on secure confinement” of youth.

The conference attendees are in Houston for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative conference, which as its name implies is working to reduce the number of youth sent into detention and instead aims to provide community-centered alternatives. The conference is hosted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Apparently the 19-year quest is working. Lubow, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Casey Foundation, told the gathering that “JDAI sites have reduced reliance on secure detention overall by 42 percent, with numerous jurisdictions posting reductions in excess of 50 percent.” All of this happening without compromising public safety, he said.

The quest in the end means, in Lubow’s words, “We need to detain the right kids, but only the right kids.”

We as a nation, he said, should be using the “my child test.” What would we want for our own children if they became entangled in the system.

Reading from these prepared remarks, he said: “Evidence is mounting from all parts of the country that policy makers, justice system practitioners and whole communities are prepared to eschew the policies of mass incarceration that have been at the center of crime policy for the past four decades. This shift is not restricted to Democratic or Republican states, or to specific sections of the country. It is increasingly embraced by people and organizations of all political persuasions."

He added: “It is at least a portent of a different future, one that recognizes that mass incarceration has proven a fiscally unsustainable approach to public safety that maintains and exacerbates racial and ethnic disadvantages, disrupts families, undermines communities and disregards new knowledge about how to respond more effectively to crime.”

Althought the JDAI is a national movement, most of the decisions that affect kids in the justice system, according to Lubow, are made at the state level where “the rules of incarceration are set, through statute, through regulations, and through fiscal arrangements. Second, it is at the local level—in courts and probation agencies—where those rules are actually implemented. So, any substantial effort to reduce reliance on juvenile incarceration must address both realities."

Although it is a local issue, it must be put into an international context. Lubow said, “Our country’s reliance on juvenile confinement is unique in the world. Even if we reduce juvenile incarceration from today’s levels by 50 percent …we would still be locking up our kids at rates far in excess of countries with similar political and economic systems. That is, halving our juvenile incarceration rate in the next decade is eminently do-able, at least as illustrated by the international experience.”

One method to produce that reduction, Lubow said, “…is simply to restrict eligibility for confinement. That is, we need to establish that juvenile institutions are reserved to those youth who pose the greatest public safety risks, not those who anger or frustrate us, or those with substantial needs.”

To pass the “my child test”, Lubow says, “I want a system that gets it that kids are not simply small adults, but largely different creatures, still maturing, less culpable, more amenable to change. Such a system would be loath to prosecute children as adults, to incarcerate kids with adults, to sentence them to life without parole, no matter what they’ve done.”

He added, “I want a juvenile justice system in which all children—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation—are treated equally, without prejudice, but with competencies that recognize these differences and their implications.”

Photo by Jeffrey Benzing and the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism

The Success of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

Bart Lubow is the designer and manager of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. The JDIA focuses on reducing unnecessary detention of juveniles in the nation. With a track record of reducing detention by more than 40 percent, JDAI is the nation's most widely replicated juvenile justice system reform project.

He recently spoke to Reclaiming Futures' Liz Wu about the program's successes.

 

Casey Foundation Effort Aims to Half Incarceration of Juveniles

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is commencing a new juvenile justice initiative aimed at reducing juvenile incarceration by 50 percent in 10 years, beginning with the release of a report that makes the case for such a drastic reduction.

“An avalanche of research has emerged over the past three decades about what works and doesn’t work in combating juvenile crime,” stated the report “No Place for Kids,” written by freelance reporter Richard Mendel for the Baltimore-based foundation. “We now have overwhelming evidence showing that wholesale incarceration of juvenile offenders is a counterproductive public policy.”

Bart Lubow, Casey's director of programs for high-risk youth, said the foundation will begin work next year with a series of states where officials want to make policy shifts that will affect their reliance on youth correctional facilities.

“The report marks the launch of an extended period of work intended to limit youth incarceration and replace it with a dispositional system that will work better and  produce better results,” Lubow said in an interview with Youth Today.

The foundation will employ a strategy similar to the one it used for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which uses the development of a risk assessment to help states, counties and cities reduce their reliance on juvenile detention centers, where some youths are held before facing a judge.

As with JDAI, Lubow said, Casey will begin with intensive work in a handful of counties and, once functional models have been developed, provide technical assistance as statewide reform becomes possible.

Among the focal points of the project, he said, will be “changes that narrow the pipeline of cases coming into court, … improving community-based options,” and ensuring that “the right kids are in the right programs.”

A number of states, most notably California and Texas, have drastically reduced the number of juveniles confined in large state facilities in the past five years. Closure of some facilities has followed in both states, and neither experienced an uptick in juvenile arrests as they relied on less incarceration.

“That was done in the absence of genuine national consensus,” Lubow said. “Part of what we hope to do is give some coherence” to the push for less incarceration.

Today’s report pieces together established research to explain why some states should rethink the extent to which they use secure confinement. It focuses on five main points:

Safety: Fifty-seven lawsuits against juvenile justice systems in the U.S. have resulted in court-ordered action, and 52 included allegations of “systemic problems with violence, physical or sexual abuse by facility staff and/or the excessive use of isolation or restraint.” In 46 of the lawsuits, plaintiffs alleged an excessive reliance on isolation and restraints to control juvenile populations.

Effectiveness: Recidivism calculations vary from state to state. The report charts available recidivism figures from two dozen states, and some of the figures are dismal. A New York study of incarcerated boys found that 83 percent had been re-arrested for a felony offense within three years of release; three-year measures of returns to correctional custody in six states yielded recidivism rates between 16 percent and 62 percent.

Misuse: While the public and most lawmakers presume that incarceration is used for the most serious juvenile offenders, just 26 percent of the 150,000 juveniles placed in residential programs during 2007 committed a violent index offense.

Better, Cheaper Alternatives: Evidence-based programs such as Multisystemic Therapy and Functional Family Therapy have emerged as more effective and less expensive alternatives for juveniles, the report stated. In Florida, a redirection initiative that sent nearly 3,000 juveniles to such programs instead of secure or residential confinement yielded $41.6 million in savings.

The average cost of incarcerating a youth is about $80,000 per year, according to an estimate by the American Correctional Association.

Lack of Services: Drawing mostly from responses to the Justice Department’s 2010 Survey of Youth in Residential Placement, the report stated that most facilities fail to provide adequate education programs, mental health treatments and substance abuse interventions.

“You hear about all of this in different strands: the ineffectiveness of institutionalization and declining numbers in some states,” said Vincent Schiraldi, the commissioner of probation for New York City, who had read the report. “This report makes you see the sum of the parts, so it’s added value in that sense.”

The report recommends the priorities Lubow mentioned for Casey’s forthcoming initiative, specifically, limiting the universe of charges for which incarceration can be an option, and realigning the financial structure of juvenile justice systems such that more funding flows to community-based alternatives. The report also recommends that states with large prison-like secure buildings replace them with smaller ones designed for treatment.

Lubow said Casey has no intention of pushing a specific threshold of offenses for which incarceration is an option in any state.

“That’s not our role, nor do I think any [system] would put much stock in our opinion,” Lubow said. “What we are saying is: Right now, we have gone way to the extreme in terms of locking up low-risk and high-need cases.”

This story originally appeared in Youth Today.

Photo credit: Richard Ross