Unless the U.S. Congress agrees on a different budget by the end of this year, stopping a so-called “sequestration” budget, federal spending on juvenile justice programs will fall by around 8 percent.
A total $21 million would be sliced out of Juvenile Justice Programs under the federal Department of Justice alone, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget’s report on sequestration. Other spending that has some effect on juvenile welfare, such as state grants from the federal Administration for Children and Families, are also in line for cuts of around 8 percent.
“We are kind of bracing ourselves,” said Kimberly Williams, juvenile justice specialist at the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission.
“Last year we had only about $1.5 million in juvenile justice funding to allocate across the whole state. And we received about $10 million in requests,” she explained, adding that they are anticipating another 7 percent cut under sequestration.
In North Carolina, those funds cover things like programs for gang-involved youth, mentoring, after-school programs and monitoring and compliance. “We have to turn away a lot of good programs,” said Williams. If the cuts come, they will likely have to turn away more.
It will be the same in other states. All have some flexibility on how they spend federal juvenile justice dollars. But their priorities and grants may change from year to year, making it difficult to know what exactly post-sequestration state spending would look like.
That Act generally requires that court-involved youth be detained separately from adults, that states address disproportionate minority contact and that juveniles who commit status offenses like curfew violations stay out of jail.
Chambers called the Act “fundamental” to good policy for youth in the justice system. The more a state’s policy mirrors federal requirements, the more juvenile justice grant money flows down to the state. Indeed, North Carolina is recovering from compliance issues that had already shrunk its federal funds.
But “even at current levels, there's been concern about states dropping compliance with the Act because they don't get enough funding to make it feasible; more cuts will probably tip that balance,” said Chambers. After years of cuts already, “we're already pretty close to that point,” of states abandoning JJDPA, he argued.
Hundreds of young people from Virginia and several other states are rallying in Washington, D.C. today to urge President Obama and Congress to pass legislation that protects children in the juvenile justice system.
“Children as young as 14 can be tried as adults in Virginia courts, which is counterproductive,” Liane Rozzell, executive director of Families & Allies of Virginia’s Youth, told the Public News Service.
The Justice Policy Institute says the majority of kids in juvenile detention are being held for nonviolent offenses and could be managed safely in the community.
The protesters are advocating laws that rely less on putting young people behind bars and more on local and community-based programs.
The Community Justice Network for Youth is also hosting a national conference in D.C. today, according to the Center for Media Justice. Today’s events will launch the Network’s “Week of Action,” to push for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).
Some alarming numbers about children who are sexually abused while in custody are contained in a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on May 10, 2010 from seven national advocacy groups. The Children’s Defense Fund, Campaign for Youth Justice, Youth Law Center and other groups created a report called Preventing the Sexual Abuse of Youth in Correctional Settings. Some of their recommendations:
- Training in adolescent development for people who work or volunteer in youth facilities.
- More direct supervision by trained adults instead of video surveillance.
- Assessment standards and safety plans to keep vulnerable children safe.
- Limiting harsh responses to consensual sex between residents, where it may not be abusive
The report contains current federal laws, plus information about the new Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act currently under review in Congress. It also features research, questionnaires, and resolutions from the PTA, the American Bar Association, the NAACP and other organizations concerned about the risks of placing juveniles under 18 in adult prisons.