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Major Juvenile Service Cuts Coming to Utah as Part of State’s Legislative Budget

After the loss of key federal funding and the end of a stopgap measure, state lawmakers in Utah are cutting the budgets of agencies providing crucial services to juvenile services.

After a federal decision to suspend funding of non-medical expenditures associated with residential care was made two years ago, Utah legislators provided its state agencies - such as Juvenile Justice Services (JJS) and Division of Child and Family Services (DFCS) - with emergency stopgap funds. This legislative session, however, stopgap funding for juvenile services programs ceased, with state legislators issuing an additional $3.2 million in budget cuts.

The impact of the federal decision on Utah was severe, costing the state an estimated $27 million in Medicaid funding. In the process, Utah’s JJS ended up losing an estimated $9 million per year, with the state DFCS agency losing an estimated $18 million annually.

The budget cuts are expected to eliminate 46 jobs in the state, with an additional 23 eliminated when the Weber Valley Detention Center closes next year. Six counties will see a reduction in youth center beds, with a majority of the state’s youth centers initializing a reduction in operating hours.

The cutbacks are most severe in Salt Lake County and Utah County, which will see a $222,900 reduction and a $121,500 reduction in funding, respectively.

While last-minute funding was amassed in order to keep most of the state’s facilities running through 2013, many analysts believe the cutbacks to rural communities may prove too much to surmount.

Ally Isom, a spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbet, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the cuts were “disheartening and tragic in so very many ways.”

"We’d like to see it addressed in future budgets,” she said. “Because if we don’t assist many of these youth in their present situation, they often end up in the adult system and incur further social costs and greater family tragedy.”

Photo from Randy Calderone.

Which Bills Survived Crossover Day in the Georgia Assembly?

A proposed overhaul of Georgia's juvenile code remains alive at the State Capitol, but bills addressing school attendance and over-medicating foster children died this week as the Legislature completed its 30th day. Or, if not legally dead, the bills are on life-support.

The General Assembly designates Day 30 of each year's session as "Crossover Day," the deadline by which the state House or Senate must pass a bill and send it over to the other chamber. Bills that don't make it are dead, but can be revived by tacking the language onto another measure that remains under consideration.

The Senate's version of the juvenile-code rewrite -- a mammoth, five-year, 243-page reorganization and update of laws dealing with delinquent, unruly and neglected children -- died Wednesday without a vote by the full chamber. But the House last week unanimously passed a nearly identical version, which now becomes the vehicle for senators to continue working on the bill.

The Legislature has 10 more official days before adjournment -- plenty of time to reconcile relatively minor differences on the bill between the two chambers. The House wants the state-run public defender system to continue representing youths in juvenile court who are facing possible incarceration. The Senate bill would have removed that duty due to cost concerns, leaving it up to county governments to pick up the tab.

Also staying alive is a Senate bill to toughen the law against contraband in juvenile detention facilities. The bill, pushed by the state Department of Juvenile Justice, would add cellphones and other electronic devices to the list of proscribed items. It also more clearly defines the area where such items may not be brought in from outside. Violators could face up to five years in prison.

The Senate this week also passed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for an eyewitness to fail to report sexual or other abuse of a juvenile. Similar bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country in the wake of the recent scandal at Penn State University, where football coach Joe Paterno lost his job over the school's failure to report an alleged sexual assault by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Falling by the wayside Wednesday, though, were bills dealing with child prostitution, truancy and oversight for medications given to foster children.

Child prostitutes who have been victims of human trafficking will have to wait at least another year to see if they might be able to have their records expunged. A 2011 law allows juvenile court judges in delinquency hearings to consider evidence that youths were victimized by pimps or traffickers, but the House this year did not act in time on a bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Neal (R-LaFayette) to allow that evidence to be used to vacate past findings of delinquency.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) hasn't given up on two of her bills. House Bill 821, which didn't get a House vote despite the support of the Education Committee, would have held parents criminally accountable if their kids are not enrolled in school or have accumulated five or more unexcused absences. Violators would face up to 30 days in jail.

Oliver said Thursday that she's working on several avenues to keep the bill alive by attaching the language to another one.

The Decatur lawmaker says she's also hopeful that state officials, without a legislative mandate, will begin to monitor mood- and behavior-altering medications given to Georgia's foster children.

The federal government requires that states come up with plans to make sure foster kids are not over-medicated with such psychotropic drugs, but Georgia has not yet done so.

Oliver's bill, which would require the state Department of Human Resources to develop those guidelines, never made it out of committee. The department, she said, is already discussing the issue with private advocacy groups.

"My primary goal was to get the attention of DHS publicly" and to nudge the department toward compliance, Oliver said.

Last month, a year-long study concluded that Georgia exceeds the national average in prescribing psychotropic medications to children in foster care. The report, prepared by the Barton Child Law & Policy Center, called for clearer rules for obtaining informed consent of patients, oversight standards and a ban on the use of psychotropic medications as "chemical restraints" or for the convenience of caregivers.

Washington State’s High Court Rules Legislature Not Doing Enough to Fund Education

The Washington State Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional responsibility to fund public education for the last three decades, according to a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court.

“By the Legislature’s own terms, it has not met its duty to make ample provision for ‘basic education,’” wrote Justice Debra Stephens in an 85-page opinion. “This court cannot idly stand by as the Legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform.”

In 2009, the Legislature passed a bill meant to reform funding formulas, HB2261, and update the 1977 Basic Education Act by 2018. In Justice Stephens’ opinion, the high court reaffirmed its jurisdiction to oversee the Legislature’s timely implementation of those changes.

“Ultimately, it is our responsibility to hold the State accountable to meet its constitutional duty,” Justice Stephens writes in the opinion. “This court intends to remain vigilant in fulfilling the State’s constitutional responsibility.”

According to the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, welcomed the ruling and called for a half-penny sales tax increase to further fund education.

“This is not about partisan politics,” Gregoire said during a press conference on Jan. 5, adding that the state sales tax hasn’t been increased since 1983. “This is about stepping up to the challenge despite the tough times and asking, ‘What does the state want to look like when we get out of this recession? Are we going to invest in our future or are we going to compromise things and set our values behind and leave people out, which is not good for them and not good for us?’”

Kirby Wilbur, the Washington State Republican Party chairman, placed the blame on Democrats, noting that the state’s governor’s office had been controlled by Democrats for the previous 27 years.

“Their failure to prioritize state spending on our kids and our future economic health is exactly why we need fresh thinking in Olympia,” Wilbur said in a press release calling the issue a “fiasco.”

Education advocates, including the Washington State Board of Education, called the high court’s ruling a “huge victory.”

Photo by Flickr | designatednaphour

As the New Legislative Session Begins, One Bill Looms Above the Rest

Monday marks the first day of the 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly and while many bills will be considered and debated on the floor of the state Capitol, for those interested in juvenile justice, one piece of legislation gets all of the attention. The juvenile code rewrite, in the form of two separate bills, SB 127 in the state Senate and HB 641 in the House, was reintroduced last year, working its way through various committees and stakeholder meetings.

This year, advocates are guardedly optimistic the code rewrite, officially known as the Child Protection and Public Safety Act, will pass the Legislature and land on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for a signature.

“That’s our objective,” said Voices for Georgia’s Children Executive Director Pat Willis. “We have great support from the sponsors and committees where the tough work gets done.”

But, there is still work to be done, says Julia Neighbors, JUSTGeorgia Project Manager at Voices for Georgia’s Children and a lead on the code rewrite.

“It’s not a done deal,” she said. “For the advocates that want to see this happen, our work is still not done.”

Advocates for revision of the code argue that changes need to be made to the current law to address everything from legal representation of children, to juveniles being charged as adults for certain crimes to, restoring judicial discretion to both judges and prosecutors.

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice is also working with lawmakers and stakeholders to refine the code rewrite, according to a statement by DJJ spokesperson Jim Shuler.

“The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice continues to work with our partners to pursue a positive legislative agenda for 2012," Shuler said in the statement. "The juvenile code re-write bills that are currently proposed, although they represent many improvements, still include some areas that leave room for clarification. DJJ will continue to work with all parties to resolve those legislative issues for this session.”

Sen. Bill Hamrick first introduced legislation containing the code rewrite in 2009 and reintroduced the bill in 2011 after review and revisions by legislators and stakeholders. In 2011, Rep. Wendell Willard introduced a similar bill into the House.

The code rewrite is based on a proposed model code developed by the Young Lawyers Division of the Georgia State Bar and includes significant input from stakeholders and the public. Lead agencies include JUSTGeorgia and Georgia Appleseed. The juvenile code handles everything from delinquency and truancy to abused and neglected children, Willis said.

“It’s about children from birth until age 17 and the issues they encounter as they are referred to the juvenile courts,” she said.

The code, she continued, “is the place where we really spell out how we respect children. It’s all spelled out in the code.”

The offices of the Governor and the Speaker of the House were also very cooperative, Willis said.

According to Neighbors, stakeholders were also vital to the process.

“We have had tremendous input from stakeholders,” Neighbors said. “Advocates have been meeting with stakeholders since April in preparation for the upcoming legislative session.”

And as the General Assembly meets again, the code rewrite continues to be refined, she said.

“This is not the time to be silent,” she said. “It’s important to talk to legislators and juvenile court judges and tell them why it’s important to you.”

Advocates aren’t the only ones hoping the bill will pass this year. Rep. Willard, who introduced the House version of the bill is also optimistic, according to a staff member who wished to remain anonymous because she is not authorized to speak on the subject.

Following a recommendation from the Criminal Justice Reform Commission that released its report in late 2011, there has been some speculation whether the Legislature might establish a permanent Criminal Justice Oversight Commission that could also be tasked with a review of Georgia’s juvenile justice system.

However, that legislation is unlikely because, according to Rep. Willard’s staff member, other juvenile justice legislation is “being held back so that lawmakers and stakeholders can focus on the code rewrite.”

Prefiling of bills in the General Assembly began Nov. 15, 2011. So far, no new juvenile justice legislation has been filed.

Linda Tilly On the Need for Inspections at Alabama’s Child Care Centers

MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Your mother is not able to care for herself anymore. She is often confused and has difficulty walking. As you consider the best options for her, your family begins to investigate various nursing homes in the area.

Which one will you choose? Will you select the nursing home that is licensed and professionally inspected for safety and other health standards? Or will you choose a nursing home that is unlicensed with no outside review of procedures? Fortunately here in Alabama you will not have to make such a decision. All nursing homes are inspected regularly to make sure they are providing safe and healthy care to their patients.

Now you must find the right child care for your new baby. She, like your mother, can’t walk on her own, feed or take care of herself. You are considering the best options for your daughter while you are at work. Will you choose the day care program that is licensed and regularly inspected for safety and health standards or will you choose the one that is not licensed? Unfortunately, in Alabama, you will have to look carefully and ask the right questions to find a facility that is regularly inspected. Statewide, a large and increasing number of programs are not inspected. The number of licensed programs is declining while the number of unlicensed/uninspected facilities is increasing.

As parents, there is no way to really know how safe a day care center is without regular inspections from outside professionals. Are there enough adults for the number of children? Is the classroom or play space arranged to reduce the chance of serious accidents? Are diaper changing areas cleaned and maintained properly to avoid illness? Does the staff have appropriate training and experience for dealing with challenging situations that can arise? Have they had criminal background checks?

These are serious questions that parents can’t answer for themselves, but that can make the difference between a safe and healthy facility and one that represents real risks to our kids.

Even good, conscientious providers sometimes can’t identify or correct all the issues without some professional help and advice. Clean, pretty facilities can have hidden risks to the untrained eye. That’s where qualified inspectors come in. Their job is not to shut down the facility, but to help providers meet minimum standards. Inspectors come with a checklist to make sure nothing is overlooked. On their list are things such as fire safety, adult to child ratio, and safety of playground equipment. Job one is to make sure kids are safe, so parents can have confidence and peace of mind.

Years ago, when child care legislation was enacted by lawmakers in Alabama, faith-based centers and programs caring for children for four hours or less were given an exemption from licensure – and, as a result, from regular inspection. Now, the number of these “exempt” programs is growing dramatically.

Each year, the number of facilities that apply for and are granted faith-based exemptions increases. Some are excellent programs and meet or exceed minimum standards. Others are not legitimately faith-based as defined in the law and are falsely claiming the exemption to avoid inspection and cut corners to save money. Programs serving children for four or fewer hours a day need inspection just as much as longer programs. A child in care for four hours needs the same safe and healthy environment as one who is in care longer.

Inspections make simple common sense and they should be the norm. Alabama’s consumer protection laws require faith-based nursing homes and faith-based hospitals to be inspected. Other businesses such as restaurants, bars, beauty parlors and dentist offices must also pass health and safety inspection. Our neighboring states required regular childcare inspections.

It’s time for Alabama to put our children first. All children deserve a safe and healthy place to spend the day. And families deserve to be confident that their young children are in a quality, safe environment that can allow them to grow and learn.

 

 

 

It’s Official: Governor Deal Signs Juvenile ‘Good Behavior Bill’ Into Law

Lorena Padron, 18, and Maria Calderon, 19, were all smiles this afternoon as they flanked Governor Nathan Deal in his office.

With a stroke of a pen, the governor signed HB 373 into law, giving both of them and thousands of others with a track record of good behavior and academic success in Georgia’s Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDCs) and Youth Development Centers (YDCs)  a chance to substantially reduce their time in custody. Known as the “Good Behavior bill,” the measure passed in the 2011 legislative session that ended last month also gives juvenile court judges more discretion.

“I feel very good, I’m very happy,” said Padron, after the signing ceremony at the state capitol. “I feel like I can begin my life again, like I’ll be able to go home and help my family. Now everybody has hope; an opportunity to show that they can do better.”

Calderon agreed with her fellow Macon YDC peer.

“I’m ecstatic,” she said, of the bill formally endorsed by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges (CJCJ). “I would say that it gives us hope that we can show our judge that we deserve to go home. And I have a tough judge.”

Sponsored by state Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) and state Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), the bill allows juvenile court judges to modify the sentences of designated felons committed to DJJ facilities. Currently, there is no provision for judges to modify sentences based on a child’s behavior, academic achievement or rehabilitation status.

“This is not about managing budget constraints, this is about public safety and motivating kids to do better,” insisted DJJ Commissioner Amy Howell. “This gives them a chance to prove that they can change and turn their lives around.”

Rep. Pak called the measure a “step in the right direction” for prison system reform in Georgia.

Calderon and Padron pose at the state capitol.

“It gives juveniles an incentive to behave and get to take advantage of educational opportunities, which is the whole goal of the juvenile justice system,” said Pak. “I hope this results in a lot of juveniles turning their lives around.

He emphasized that the measure is not about being “soft” on crime.

“This doesn’t mean that everyone has the opportunity to get out; only those who are completely rehabilitated will be considered, which is better for everyone overall,” he said. “It is also very cost-effective because it costs $220 a day to house a juvenile compared to $40 a day for an adult inmate.”

Key provisions in the bill, which officially takes effect July 1, include:

  • It allows judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release.
  • A motion can only be filed after the child has served a year in custody and cannot be re-filed more than once a year.
  • Good behavior and academic achievement will weigh heavily in the child’s favor.
  • DJJ will make recommendations, but the juvenile court judge assigned to the case will have the final say.
  • The victim and prosecuting attorney will be notified within 14 days of the child’s scheduled hearing date.

“The victim will have the opportunity to participate in the hearing,” added Rep. Pak. “They will have the chance to have their voices heard too.”

Commissioner Howell said DJJ will play a key role in “guiding the process” of ensuring the bill’s implementation.

“One thing that’ll be important is making sure that the stakeholders understand what tools are being given to them,” said supporter Rep. Jay Neal (R-LaFayette), who during the last session introduced statewide prison reform legislation backed by the governor. “We’ll have to make sure that the juvenile court judges understand the flexibility being given to them.”

Gov. Deal signed the bill during a small afternoon ceremony attended by Padron, Calderon and representatives from DJJ and CJCJ, along with legislative sponsors and other supporters.

“This is HB 373, right,” the governor inquired to the crowd packed inside his office. 

“Yes it is,” Commissioner Howell responded, with a broad smile. A hush fell over the room as Gov. Deal, seated as his desk, scribbled his signature.

“This is a very good day for DJJ, that’s why everyone’s being so quiet,” quipped Commissioner Howell, eliciting laughter.

Afterwards Calderon and Padron posed for pictures on the capitol steps and gushed about their first ever visit to the state capitol.

Sen. McKoon said their presence was very important.

“It was a good feeling seeing those young women today,” he said. “It’s no longer abstract when you see the real people who are affected by this. It’s a good feeling to know that this provides incentives for them to have good behavior and to pursue academic achievement.”

Calderon admitted that she was nervous during the visit to the governor’s office.

“My hands was sweating,” she said, with a giggle.

By the end of the event, however, she said her nervousness faded into excitement.

“I’m going to stay positive and strive for success no matter what I do,” added Calderon. “I’m just going to pray everything goes well with this bill.”

 

 

Juvenile “Good Behavior bill” Advances Through Senate Committee

House Bill 373, also known as the “Good Behavior bill,” which pushes for more discretion among juvenile court judges, has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC).

The measure seems to have a track record of advancing just in the nick of time. Last Monday – just two days before the critical Crossover Day deadline – it got pushed through to the Senate. Yesterday Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Amy Howell had about 20 minutes to drive to the State Capitol to testify on it after it was unexpectedly added to the SJC agenda.

“I don’t know what happened I had just left the capitol; I was told that it wasn’t on the schedule and then all of a sudden I get this call from [committee chairman Bill] Hamrick’s legal assistant that I needed to turn around and come back,” says DJJ spokeswoman Scheree Moore. “All I could do was call the commissioner and tell her ‘you’ve got 20 minutes to make it.’”

Howell

Howell managed to arrive in time to present on the measure, which has been formally endorsed by DJJ and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges. Sponsor Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) also addressed the SJC, before members approved it with no amendments. If passed into law, HB 373 would allow judges to review the sentences of felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release. Behavior and academic achievement would weigh heavily in the child’s favor. A motion could only be filed after he or she had served a year in custody and could not be re-filed more than once a year.

“It originally indicated that we would have to notify the victim within 10 days,” Moore said. “They only asked that we change that to 14 days.”

Rep. Pak

DJJ brass has praised the measure as a means of promoting “long-term public safety” and providing an incentive for young people in detention centers to better themselves in preparation for life back in the community. The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee. Once passed through, it will head to the Senate floor for a vote. “We’re really excited that it’s advancing so quickly; it’s a good bill,” gushed Moore. “It gives the kids an incentive to do what they need to do.”