WASHINGTON, D.C. – Juvenile justice advocates are dismayed by a new law that they say threatens to accelerate the fading relevance of juvenile justice reform within the federal government.
To the chagrin of many, President Barack Obama has not nominated anyone for the U.S. Senate to confirm as a permanent leader of federal juvenile justice efforts since he took office. For three and a half years, the federal office responsible for setting national policy, sharing research on best practices and funding state initiatives on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has chugged along on temporary leadership, first under acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski and since January, under acting Administrator Melodee Hanes.
If the White House does name a person to fill the long-vacant position – something unlikely to happen soon, advocates say, given a looming presidential election -- such a Senate confirmation will never come.
That’s because effective Aug. 10, the process of confirming a person to lead the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has fundamentally changed. Under the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act, passed by Congress and signed by the president earlier this summer, the Senate will no longer have to confirm the nominations of 170 government positions, including that of the administrator of the OJJDP. The president can now simply appoint someone to that office.
“I’m certainly not in favor of it. I think it downgrades the position of the office,” said Gordon Raley, who was staff director of a House subcommittee at the time that the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which created an office focused on juvenile justice and delinquency issues within the U.S. Department of Justice, was being drafted.
“Kids generally don’t have high priority when it comes to the way things are done in Washington,” Raley said. “Kids in trouble even less so. To get someone who will be able to get stature in the position and be able to work across agencies -- that's what the office was supposed to do.”
Ira Schwartz, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to lead the federal office, echoed Raley’s characterization of the original intention of the 1974 legislation. It drew tremendous bipartisan support for bringing attention to the “many, many problems” faced by children who came into contact with the juvenile justice system, he said.
“Children were not receiving adequate due process, proper representation in the courts, they were being incarcerated for relatively minor and often times non-criminal offenses,” Schwartz said. “They were also being incarcerated for longer periods of time than their adult counterparts who had committed similar offenses.”
The position of the office administrator came up a lot during the drafting of the 1974 Act, Raley said. “The point we wanted to make at the time was that this was a position that needed a presidential nomination and Senate approval at the same time. It needed this stature.”
JJIE spoke to many other people in the juvenile justice field, including another former administrator of the office, and their views on the change were nearly unanimous: removing the Senate confirmation requirement, even in the name of expediency, will have a negative effect on the ability of the office to advocate for juvenile justice issues at the federal level. Hanes, acting administrator of the OJJDP, did not respond to requests for comment.
“I just don't think you have as much power or as much clout if you don’t have Senate confirmation. They don’t really know you then,” said Marion Mattingly, Washington editor of the Juvenile Justice Update, who has followed the juvenile justice field for decades.
Liz Ryan, president of the nonprofit Campaign for Youth Justice, says removing the requirement for Congressional confirmation opens the doors to more partisan and less-qualified appointees for the office in the future.
“Particularly in a situation where you have an unfriendly administration or an administration that views this as a low priority, we won’t have the ability to stop the appointment or hear their views prior to a vote,” Ryan said.
The director of Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Shay Bilchik, who served as administrator of the OJJDP from 1994 to 2000 under President Bill Clinton, also said he was “disappointed” when he heard the law had been signed.
Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act is intended to make it easier for the Obama administration to fill 170 vacant federal positions, some with nominees whose confirmations have been blocked or delayed for months by a partisan or distracted Congress. Schumer’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Some juvenile justice practitioners, however, take a pragmatic approach. Like Irv Katz, president of the National Human Services Assembly, an association of the country’s largest youth and human services organizations, including the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.
“What I would observe is that we have had good and bad people in that position regardless of the congressional approval process,” Katz said. He doesn’t blame the administration for the change.
“The whole appointment and confirmation process is so dysfunctional and fractured, that it leads to nominees who are not confirmed in the appropriate period of time, and nominees that withdraw, and a reluctance on part of the administration to put names forward knowing that it will not move forward,” Katz said. “So it appoints an interim person in the chain of command who they know will do a perfectly fine job.”
Jim Moeser, deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, who serves on the federal advisory council for juvenile justice for OJJDP, also doesn’t see a problem with the change.
“If the confirmation process is so cumbersome and politically problematic that we end up with no one there, then that’s not very useful,” Moeser said.
But, several people have pointed out, there has never been an Obama nominee for the job of OJJDP administrator, even though, as JJIE’s sister publication Youth Today reported at the time, two candidates, Karen Baynes of Georgia, and Vicki Spriggs of Texas, came close in 2009 and 2010 respectively before withdrawing from consideration.
“The fact that this administration wasn’t even able to provide a name, or feel strongly enough that they could find someone, tells me that’s a problem with this administration giving this a priority, than it is with the Senate not pushing it through,” Raley said.
Photo by Justice.gov
Last week, Melody Hanes assumed the mantle of acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a temporary position held for three years by her predecesor. She may be there just as long. The Obama administration appears in no hurry to permanently fill the position and controversial legislation to remove Senate approval for the OJJDP administrator passed the Senate but is stalled in the House.
While Congress debates the issue, Hanes, formerly the Deputy Administrator for Policy at OJJDP, faces an uphill battle as acting administrator of an agency that has had its budget slashed nearly $150 million by Congress in recent years. But former colleagues say Hanes, a one-time prosecutor and law professor, is uniquely qualified to make the most of a job hamstrung by its lack of permanence.
In the courtroom, Hanes was a fair but tough prosecutor, says Jerry Foxhoven, an attorney who both worked with Hanes and faced her in court when she was deputy county attorney in Polk County, Iowa.
“She was tenacious, but not in a bad way,” he said. “She was reasonable, but she certainly wasn’t afraid to go to court and she wasn’t afraid to fight you.”
Hanes was part of the major offense bureau in Polk County where she handled major felony cases, including child abuse and child molestation.
“She was doing pretty significant cases,” Foxhoven said. “Pretty important stuff.”
According to John Sarcone, the Polk County Attorney and Hanes’ former boss, Hanes was passionate about helping kids.
“She did an excellent job for us,” he said. “She cared about the kids. She was a good litigator and advocate.”
In Sarcone’s opinion, Hanes’ ability to help kids is without question. But he hopes she can make progress on other issues as well.
“I do hope there is some role to play for her to help state and local prosecutors get the funding and the help they need,” he said. “I’m hoping she can get the ear of the [U.S.] attorney general. Mel is good at that.”
Before joining OJJDP, Hanes was an adjunct professor teaching child abuse law at her alma mater, Drake Law School in Des Moines, Iowa, where Foxhoven is now an assistant professor and executive director of the Neal and Bea Smith Legal Clinic. He says Hanes was well-liked by faculty and students.
“She’s very personable,” Foxhoven said. “At Drake, she was very professional, open and friendly. She was well-regarded.”
Still, experts fear those qualities may not be enough.
“A permanent administrator has more power and clout,” said Marion Mattingly, Washington editor of the Juvenile Justice Update. “It makes a huge difference.”
Mattingly worries that OJJDP’s budget cuts and lack of permanent leadership signal the beginning of the end for the federal agency that promotes best practices in the states’ juvenile justice systems.
“The program has not been reauthorized for years,” Mattingly said. “There are those who think it could be dead.”
She continued, “I’ve been involved for a long time and I am concerned. There are those who think Melodee [Hanes] was appointed to see to it that the program dies.”
But Mattingly dismisses those rumors.
“I don’t think she would that,” she said. “But it is going to be tough.”
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After nearly three years as acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Jeff Slowikowski is stepping down. According to a statement Wednesday by Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Laurie O. Robinson, the White House has named Melodee Hanes as new acting administrator.
Hanes was formerly the principal deputy administrator for OJJDP, serving as counselor to Slowikowski.
"We have welcomed the expertise and energy that Melodee Hanes has brought to the office in her role as counselor to the acting administrator--and will continue to bring to her new leadership role,” Robinson said. “Improving the quality of life for children, while ensuring their safety, is a priority for the Attorney General and I look forward to her leadership within the Office of Justice Programs.”
Slowikowski will remain at OJJDP as acting deputy administrator for policy. As acting administrator, Slowikowski oversaw more than $1.5 billion in funding for juvenile programs.
"I want to thank Jeff for his exceptional service,” Robinson said. “Jeff's leadership has been vital to the important work of OJJDP and to the many successes we have had in the office over the past three years."
Prior to her tenure at OJJDP, Hanes served 16 years as a deputy county attorney in Polk County, Iowa and Billings, Mont., primarily prosecuting child abuse, sexual assault and homicide cases. As an adjunct professor of law at Drake University, Hanes taught child abuse law among other subjects.
OJJDP is a component of the Office of Justice Programs and supports states and local communities to implement effective programs for juveniles.
As JJIE reported in August 2011, President Obama has drawn fire for not appointing a permanent OJJDP administrator. Part of the delay stems from new legislation that would eliminate Senate confirmation for the job of acting administrator (among other federal positions). That bill, S. 697, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlinig Act of 2011, passed the Senate but has yet to go before the House for a vote.
Photo from mainjustice.com
Since the 1980’s, nearly every state has passed or expanded juvenile transfer laws that allow kids to be tried as adults in some cases. But a recent report from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) found that only 13 states publicly report how many kids are transferred each year and even fewer report any details of those transfers.
According to the report, in the states that publicly reported, 14,000 youth were transferred to criminal courts in 2007, the last year data was available. However, that number has declined sharply since 1994.
Writing in the report, OJJDP Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski said, “To obtain the critical information that policymakers, planners, and other concerned citizens need to assess the impact of expanded transfer laws, we must extend our knowledge of the prosecution of juveniles in criminal courts.”
Young people accused of a crime are sent to juvenile or criminal court, in part, based on their age — 18 in most states, but as young as 16 in others, the report says. Those under that age fall under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. But youth can be transferred to criminal courts in some situations, and each state has its own procedure. Some states allow the juvenile court to waive jurisdiction. Although some standards are in place, the judge often has final discretion. In other states, the transfer is solely at the discretion of the prosecutor. Many states have statutory exclusion laws that mandate certain classes of crimes automatically be transferred to criminal court.
Some states have a wide variety of ways for juveniles to be transferred to criminal court. Georgia, for example, allows for statutory exclusion and prosecutorial discretion, as well as discretionary and mandatory judicial waiver, according to the OJJDP report. There is no minimum age to enter Georgia’s juvenile court system, but children as young as 12 may be transferred to criminal court. However, Georgia also allows for reverse waiver in which a youth is transferred back to juvenile court.
OJJDP also reports that many juveniles are housed in state prisons. A survey in 2009 found that 2,778 inmates under the age of 18 were held in state prisons. Nearly half of those, 46 percent, were in southern states. Florida and Texas led the pack with 393 and 156 respectively. Georgia had 99 youth in state prisons.
Angelo Speziale may be the most infamous graduate of Scared Straight! As a scrawny 16-year-old, he appeared in the original Scared Straight! documentary filmed at New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison in 1978. Now he’s back--serving 25-to-life in Rahway for the 1982 rape and murder of a teenage girl who lived next door to him.
Proponents of “Scared Straight” claim the program literally scares kids away from a life of crime. In a follow-up show called Scared Straight: 20 Years Later, Speziale echoed this, claiming the experience changed him. Apparently not enough. He was arrested for shoplifting in 2005 and a DNA sample linked him to the 30-year-old cold case murder for which he was convicted in 2010. A New Jersey law enforcement source confirms Angelo Speziale is the same person who appeared in both documentaries.
Here is a clip from Scared Straight: 20 Years Later which aired in 1998. Speziale appears at 8:45.
Speziale may become a poster child for groups opposing A&E’s new series Beyond Scared Straight, who say the program is ineffective and does more harm than good.
A petition by the Campaign for Youth Justice is calling on A&E to yank Beyond Scared Straight off the cable channel. The petition says the show is promoting “the spread of a noxious program” and may be in violation of federal law, citing portions of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s [OJJDP] Compliance Manual.
The petition is also asking that A&E do a better job of educating viewers on the shortcomings of the “Scared Straight” approach. The show follows at-risk kids as they are confronted by prison inmates who try to scare them into turning their lives around. About 300 people have signed the online petition and they are not alone in opposing Beyond Scared Straight.
Two Justice Department officials have written an op-ed piece describing scared straight programs as “not only ineffective but potentially harmful” to the kids involved. The op-ed appears in Tuesday’s Baltimore Sun, written by OJJDP Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski and Laurie O. Robinson, from the Office of Justice Programs. They say that, “when it comes to our children,” policymakers and parents should “follow evidence, not anecdote.”
As JJIE reported earlier this week, The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is also calling on A&E to present the facts about Beyond Scared Straight. Last month juvenile crime experts told JJIE.org the show may generate more crime.
Beyond Scared Straight producer, Arnold Shapiro, has said he’s never read any of the studies, but claims the research is wrong. He believes follow-ups are the best indicator of success with the “Scared Straight” approach and points to the success of kids from his original 1978 documentary, “Scared Straight!” He’s apparently not talking about Angelo Speziale.
Amid this mounting criticism, one “Scared Straight” program in Rhode Island was suspended after administrators learned children as young as 8 were involved. The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Family decided that Scared Straight techniques could be “traumatizing” for someone that young, according to the Providence Journal.
Despite what the experts say, public comments about the show appear mostly positive. Comments posted at JJIE.org and A&E’s online discussion board run the gamut from desperate parents with troubled kids, willing to try anything, to get-tougher advocates who think the show doesn’t go far enough in confronting kids with the grim realities of prison. Here’s a sample:
Dee: “I have a 16 year old nephew that is uncontrolable [sic] at this point. He needs to see this first hand.”
Jalila Hood: “I am a deaf Single mom who raising my kids by myself they’re very disrespectful and out of control….i need that help especially for my son he will be 13 this year he has done shoplifting and hasn’t gotten caught yet?”
Foodcritic: “This show is too mild and they need to raise the stakes to wake these hoodlum kids up.”
JJIE staff actually tried to contact some of the most desperate-sounding authors by return email. So far, no one has responded.
The controversy has not hurt Beyond Scared Straight. The show set a ratings record for the A&E Network with 3.8 million viewers when it debuted on January 13. “We could not be more proud to have undertaken this groundbreaking series,” Bob DeBitetto, President of A&E told the Hollywood Reporter, “and the audience response is extremely rewarding.
About 1 out of 10 kids in 6th – 10th grades are getting bullied, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and they believe that 13 percent of kids in that age group are doing the bullying.
“Bullying can have long-term consequences for the safety of youth, as evidenced by the fact that two-thirds of school shooters reported having been bullied or having bullied others,” Jeff Slowikowski, OJJDP’s acting administrator, points out in his Department of Justice blog.
The Department of Justice has launched the Defending Childhood Initiative, which is a nationwide campaign focusing on children exposed to different forms of violence including bullying. DOJ spent $5.5 million last year and hopes to increase the budget to $37 million in FY 2011.