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Foundation Strives to Create Legacy for Juvenile Justice Reform

Models for Change 2012 Annual Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nonprofit MacArthur Foundation has spent more than $100 million since 2004 on developing blueprints for reform within the juvenile justice systems of 16 states. Earlier this week, its reform initiative, Models for Change, brought together nearly 400 judges, advocates, probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals for two days of workshops in Washington, D.C.

It was the seventh such yearly gathering for Models for Change partners, and it came at a time when the foundation is beginning to wind down funding for new research into juvenile justice reforms and enter a new phase focused on defining, sustaining and disseminating to the rest of the country the reform models its state partners and networks have already developed.

As the foundation moves toward solidifying the legacy of its blueprint initiative, its conference this year emphasized the power of storytelling and collaboration as a way to convey the impact of justice reforms to other states and to the public.

The storytelling theme ran through several events over the two-day event. Public relations professionals held a plenary session to discuss how juvenile justice organizations could craft an effective public message.

University of California at Santa Barbara professor Richard Ross exhibited a collection

Keynote speaker Cheryl Corley of NPR.

of photographs that illustrated the stark conditions within juvenile facilities around the country. Journalists from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and CBS This Morning held a hands-on workshop to explain how justice professionals could engage the media without compromising the privacy of minors. And NPR reporter Cheryl Corley gave a keynote address explaining how she came to report a radio series on juvenile offenders in Chicago last year.

More than a dozen people sat down to record short videos of their experiences within the juvenile justice system at a video booth. The videos are up on the JJIE website.

Another conference theme emerged around fostering collaboration: training attendees to recognize the multiple ways individuals, agencies and local governments can work together to improve the treatment of children in the justice system. Workshops addressed ways to involve families of juvenile offenders more closely with their child’s treatment; encourage state agencies to seek common goals with watchdog organizations; get court and child welfare agencies to share data more effectively; and build relationships between public defender offices and local law schools.

Plenary speakers encouraged cash-strapped public entities to partner with private organizations and foundations as a way to grow their resources and further their reach in replicating and sustaining reform models throughout the country.

Collaborative efforts by private foundations like MacArthur are motivating the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to develop its own partnerships with private philanthropic entities, said Marlene Beckman, the counsel to the assistant attorney general at the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, at a conference panel.

Federal officials recently met with a group of philanthropic organizations to solicit guidance on how to work with the private sector, Beckman said. The Obama administration was very interested in such partnerships, she said.

Julia Stasch, VP, MacArthur Foundation and Marlene Beckman, Counsel to Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

Among the feedback the federal juvenile justice office received from philanthropic groups at that meeting was that federal agencies needed to collaborate more closely with each other – between the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Health and Human Services, for example – and present a united leadership front when seeking partners from the private sector, Beckman said.

The group also advised the federal office of juvenile justice that it needed to communicate more effectively with private partners so that everyone understands their priorities and goals, and shares a vision for desired outcomes, Beckman said.

“Up until now, we have been more the follower than the leader,” Beckman said of the federal office’s role in developing public-private partnerships in pursuit of justice reforms.

Editor's note: The MacArthur Foundation supports the work of JJIE.

Photos courtesy of Models for Change. 

Grant Works to Prevent Kids’ Exposure to Violence

The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is offering a grant for the Defending Childhood Technical Assistance program. This project provides support to prevent and reduce the effects of kid’s exposure to violence. The deadline for this grant is July 11, 2011 at 11:59 P.M. E.S.T.

 

Scared Straight! Graduate Plays Starring Role in Cold Case Crime

Angelo Speziale
Angelo Speziale

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.

scared_straight_seriesA 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.

Courtesy of A&E
Courtesy of A&E

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.

Millions of Friends to get AMBER Alerts on Facebook

Facebook will now distribute AMBER Alerts to 140 million users in the U.S.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Office of Justice Programs announced the new partnership at the Washington, D.C. office of Facebook. It gives law enforcement a new tool to quickly spread the word about kidnappings and missing children to more people than ever across the entire country.

Click here to watch the news conference

AMBER Alerts also go out to broadcast and print media, the trucking industry, wireless phone companies and Internet service providers.  The AMBER Alert program has helped rescued 525 children over the years.

Millions Go to Youth Programs Nationwide

WASHINGTON - The Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) today announced $60 million in discretionary awards to leading national organizations to strengthen, expand and implement youth mentoring activities and youth development programming throughout the nation. An additional $37 million in grants to local mentoring organizations will be awarded in Fiscal Year 2010. These grants are administered by OJP's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

"These awards are part of an ongoing commitment by the Department of Justice to give young people an opportunity to participate in activities that will enrich their lives," said Laurie O. Robinson, OJP's Assistant Attorney General. "Through these organizations, youth are provided programs that help keep them in school, out of trouble, and most importantly, put them in direct contact with caring adults who provide crucial support and guidance."

Today's announcement includes awards to the following organizations:

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America - $10 million; Boys & Girls Clubs of America - $40 million; National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues Inc. - $5 million; 
National 4-H Council Program Operations - $5 million.

For more information about these and other awards visit: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/funding/10grantawards.htm.

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The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson, provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has seven components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; the Community Capacity Development Office, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART). More information about OJP can be found at http://www.ojp.gov.

Child Sex Crimes: New Arrests, More Money

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Decatur is getting a fresh infusion of money from the Justice Department to fight child prostitution and other forms of sex exploitation.  A 300- thousand dollar grant will go towards reaching children in trouble and arresting adults who exploit them, according to the Office of Justice Programs.

To emphasize the work that’s being done in the Atlanta area, federal prosecutors released new information about three men who were sentenced and four others arrested for child sex crimes, including these cases:

  • Former Baptist Minister Gregory Hunter, who got 18 years in prison for producing a pornographic webcast of a 9 year old girl.
  • Former doctor Adam Lebowitz, convicted of child porn and trying to entice a child to have sex
  • Michael Young and James Lampru,arrested at hotels where they arranged to have sex with a 12-year-old girl

Earlier this week, a 280 page report from Attorney General Eric Holder detailed a national strategy to fight child sex exploitation.

The GBI has received other grants to fight Atlanta’s child prostitution and pornography problems.  In 2009, the GBI got $1,438,937.00in Recovery Act funds for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.  During the first half of last year, the ICAC made 96 arrests and helped local law enforcement with 60 cases.

Read more:

Project Safe Childhood

Internet Crimes against Children Task Force

News Release from Department of Justice