‘Models for Change’ Series Available Online

A series of eight reports that summarize effective strategies to improve services and treatment of juveniles in the justice system is now available through the Models for Change Research Initiative website.

At a time of tight federal, state and local budgets, the aim of the “Knowledge Briefs” series is to share pioneering strategies that communities can study and possibly duplicate within their own juvenile systems. Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which has spent some $100 million on juvenile justice reform efforts since 2004, the series outlines inventive approaches adopted by different states to cost-effectively improve the outlook for young people leaving the justice system and re-entering society.

The series includes a study that examined whether young people at three sites in Louisiana and Washington state were treated differently in probation if they belonged to a minority race or ethnic group, and a cost-benefit analysis from a juvenile center in Cook County, Ill., that could serve as an example of how to determine whether certain reforms are worth the money.

Although the reports were published last December, the MacArthur Foundation announced their release as a series a couple of weeks ago, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the U.S. Department of Justice promoted their availability in an email to its news subscribers yesterday.

In January, the OJJDP announced a $2 million partnership with the MacArthur Foundation to support key reforms in the juvenile justice system. One aspect of the partnership involves federal help in “disseminating knowledge and innovations that have emerged” from the Models for Change initiative, explained Andrew Solomon, a spokesman for the MacArthur Foundation.

The $2 million – funded in equal part by the foundation and by the OJJDP – is going to four organizations over two years. These organizations, which include the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, will offer technical assistance and training to state and local governments in four critical areas: improving mental health screenings and risk and needs assessments for juveniles in the system; providing training for juvenile detention and corrections staff to deal with the mental health needs of juveniles; reducing ethnic and racial disparities within the juvenile justice system; and better coordinating the services offered to youth by the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

All four organizations funded by the partnership have previously worked on the Models for Change initiative by developing, implementing and evaluating best-practice blueprints for reforms in juvenile justice.

New OJJDP Acting Administrator Ready for Challenge, Say Former Colleagues

Melody Hanes

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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Senate Subcommittee Approves Funding for OJJDP, Full Vote Expected Today

Flickr | Will Palmer

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science approved 2012 funding for a number of agencies at a meeting yesterday. Among programs receiving funds are the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), approved for $251 million.

YouthToday has a breakdown of where the OJJDP funds are to be spent:

-$60 million for the Missing and Exploited Children Programs.

-$55 million for mentoring grants.

-$45 million for state formula grants, given to states on the condition that they adhere to basic standards in regard to the detainment of juveniles, and address racial disparities in the system.

-$33 million for delinquency prevention grants to be dispersed by state advisory groups, although Congress often designates the majority of it for grants to Native American tribes and enforcement of underage drinking laws.

-$30 million for Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG), which go to state juvenile justice planning agencies based on the size of a state’s youth population.

-$20 million for the Victims of Child Abuse Programs.

-$8 million for the Community-Based Violence Prevention Initiative, a project conceived by the Obama administration in 2009.

The full committee will meet later today to mark up the bill. A vote on the appropriations is also expected.

Much of the funding for OJJDP falls under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has not been reauthorized since 2002 despite repeated attempts in both the Senate and House. Advocates and lawmakers are seeking reforms to the bill’s core protections they say will keep children in the system safer.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the reauthorization bill in the Senate in 2008 where it was voted out of committee. Leahy reintroduced the bill in 2009 but the House failed to take it up.

“There hasn’t been much action on it lately,” said Eric Solomon, Director of Media and Communications for the Campaign for Youth Justice. “The House never did anything with it [in 2010]. Hard to say what’s on their agenda.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Leahy said he is “working to streamline the legislation given budget concerns.”

In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that included significant cuts to juvenile justice funding, authorizing $50 million less than the Senate for OJJDP programs. The $200 million appropriation reduces funding for state formula grants under the JJDPA and eliminates entirely funding for juvenile justice demonstration grants, Juvenile Accountability Block Grants and Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants.

Juveniles in Custody Dropped 12 Percent, New Report Says

A new report shows that nationally the total number of juvenile offenders in custody dropped by 12 percent from 2006 to 2008. The biannual census by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) surveyed juvenile residential facilities about population, size and security measures, among others.

According to the report, the drop may be explained by a decline in juvenile arrests during the same period.

OJJDP acting administrator Jeff Slowikowski writes in the report that while “crowding is still a problem in many facilities, improvements continue.” The number of facilities that were at or above their bed capacity dropped nearly 20 percent between 2000 and 2008.

To read the complete report click here.

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.


Grant Helps Prevent Disproportionate Minority Contact with Juvenile Justice System

The Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention offers funding for the Disproportionate Minority Contact Community and Strategic Planning Project. The project helps states find ways to ensure that all kids in the Juvenile Justice System are treated fairly. This grant offers as much as $50,000 for a one-year period. The deadline for this project is June 27, 2011 at 11:59 P.M.


Census of Kids on Probation

The latest census by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention offers insight into the number of kids nationwide and in the south who are on probation for various crimes. The number of kids in the southern states make up more than a fourth of the crimes. The southern states include: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia as well as the District of Columbia.

Search for New Administrator at OJJDP

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention may be close to hiring a new administrator. California Superior Court Judge Kurt Kumli has been named as a candidate, according to a report in Youth Today.

Kumli worked for 17 years in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, and spent 15 of those years focused on juvenile and child welfare issues. Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him to the bench in 2006.

Kumli may not be well connected to the Obama administration, but Youth Today points out that he seems qualified considering his background in juvenile justice reform in California.

The OJJDP, the juvenile justice branch of the Department of Justice, focuses on supporting state and local efforts in providing kids with effective programs. Last year, OJJDP awarded more than $1,050,000,000 in grants to various agencies throughout the nation.

For the full story in Youth Today, click here.

Benjamin Chambers: What Works with Serious Juvenile Offenders – Pathways to Desistance Study

Does the juvenile justice system really work?

Reading comments from readers on news stories about youth in trouble, you’d think the juvenile justice sysem was a system designed to mollycoddle dangerous kids, turning them into super-predators.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Among other reasons, we know this because of “Pathways to Desistance,” a research study led by Edward P. Mulvey, Director of the Law and Psychiatry Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. (Dr. Mulvey and Carol Schubert contributed a post to us on their findings in April 2010.)

The “Pathways to Desistance” research study is a unique study of what works in the juvenile justice system. This large, multi-site research project followed 1,354 serious juvenile offenders for seven years. An informative brief on the study findings was released in 2009 by the MacArthur Foundation; now, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has released another fact sheet, titled, “Highlights From Pathways to Desistance: A Longitudinal Study of Serious Adolescent Offenders.”

Here’s what the study found:

  • Most youth quit or reduce their offending over time.  Only 8.5 percent of the youth in the study persisted at high levels of offending. As Dr. Mulvey explains in the OJJDP fact sheet,

“Two factors that appear to distinguish high-end desisters from persisters are lower levels of substance use and greater stability in their daily routines, as measured by stability in living arrangements and work and school attendance.”

  • Providing services and sanctions based on individual need — factors including substance abuse, mental health needs, family background — could be more effective than providing them based on severity of the crime and prior convictions. Surprisingly, the researchers found that the youth who persisted in offending and those who reduced their offending behavior got about the same kind and intensity of services.
  • In a related finding, the study found that incarceration did not reduce offending. In fact, for the subgroup of serious juvenile offenders who greatly reduced their offending after contact with the justice system — who spent about 30 percent of the study followup period in institutional care — incarceration actually increased their offending to a small, but statistically signifcant degree.

If locking them up didn’t help, what did? Community-based services and probation supervision. As Dr. Mulvey writes,

“Youth who received community-based supervision and aftercare services were more likely to attend school, go to work, and avoid further offending during the 6 months after release, and longer supervision periods increased these benefits.”

  • For many of these youth — those meeting their definition of “serious juvenile offenders” — substance abuse treatment is key, as the MacArthur Foundation brief makes clear:

“Levels of substance use and associated problems are very high in these young offenders. More than one-third qualify for a diagnosis of substance use disorder in the year prior to the baseline interview, and over 80 percent report having used drugs or alcohol during the previous six months. Moreover, the level of substance use walks in lockstep with illegal activity over the follow-up period: more substance use, more criminal offending.”

Treating youth for at least 90 days, with their family members involved, cut both their substance abuse and their offending, at least during the six months after treatment.  (Tellingly, the sub-study this conclusion was based on, “Substance use treatment outcomes in a sample of male serious juvenile offenders,” which appeared in 2009 in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, found that only 25% of the serious juvenile offenders in its sample received treatment that included family members. The study authors speculated that this might be partly because these offenders were being treated in secure institutional environments, rather than the community.)

In an age when every state is trying to find money to fund juvenile justice services, policy makers should be turning to this research to help them guide funding to what works in juvenile justice.

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

House Budget Cuts Juvenile Justice Funding But Doesn’t Say Where

The U.S. House funding bill passed Friday would cut juvenile justice programs by $191 million. Some $91 million of that is in earmarked programs, but it doesn’t tell the Office of Justice Programs where to trim the remaining $100 million.

“It’s weird that they left that out,” said Joe Vignati, the National Juvenile Justice Specialist on the Executive Board of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. “If—and this is a big if — this becomes law, everybody will be clamoring and saying, ‘Cut this! Cut this!’”

HR 1, the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act, now moves to the Senate where the bill is expected to change significantly. If an agreement is not reached on the budget by March 4, the nation could face a government shutdown.