Juvenile-involved Murder Rate Holds Steady

Youths are involved in murders, either as victims or perpetrators, at about the same rate as they have been for the last few years, according to newly gathered statistics. Both figures are far down from an early 1990s peak.

In 1994, juveniles were involved in committing more than 2,300 murders. The year before that, nearly 3,000 minors were murder victims.

In 2010, the statistics had fallen to 788 and 948 respectively, according to data recently published by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which complies figures voluntarily reported by many jurisdictions nationwide, including the largest urban areas in the country. For the past decade, neither number has gone above 1,100.

Some people will say “the question isn’t so much why did they come down but why did they go up,” in the early 1990s, said Melissa Sickmund, interim director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, the nonprofit that developed the OJJDP’s Briefing Book.

“I don’t think that anyone has definitively said ‘this is it, this is the reason,’” for the change in the statistics over the decades, she said.  It’s most certainly several things at work.

She says studies show the 1990s numbers may have come from “volatility in the drug market when crack hit the streets.” As dealers and drug lords battled to stake out territory in a new market, they recruited the young and put guns in their hands.

Programs like Boston’s Gun Project also play a part, she said.  When that program was in place, police cracked down on gun traffickers and gangs in certain key areas. The juvenile murder victim rate fell by half. Even better emergency room care drives down the murder rate by saving more lives.

Buddy Howell agrees that there’s no one proven factor behind juvenile-involved murder. He’s written about and studied the problem for more than two decades and is now senior research associate at the National Gang Center, a federally funded research body. He said gang-related murder rates are stubbornly steady.

“Gangs don’t seem to be affected by so-called national trends,” said Howell. “The gang problem really varies from one city to another.”

There were about 2,000 gang-related murders annually from 2006 through 2010, according to the National Youth Gang Survey. Howell cautioned, however, that the data also includes gang members over the age of 18 and only counts mostly the few hundred most populated counties.

Yet that probably catches the vast majority of murders, which are overwhelmingly concentrated in a handful of urban counties. Los Angeles and Chicago alone account for about half the murders. Conditions that make neighborhood kids more at risk for joining gangs, like unemployment and poverty, don’t change in big cities, Howell said.

Senate Confirmation Rule Dropped for Federal Juvenile Justice Office

Melodee Hanes, acting OJJDP administrator

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

Upcoming Webinar To Explore Strategies for Improving Juvenile Detention Conditions

On September 12, the National Center for Youth in Custody (NC4YC) - launched by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in 2010 - will host a webinar titled Creating and Sustaining Improved Conditions for Youth in Custody: Beyond the Initial External Influence.

The webinar, the first in a series that will explore and address sustainable and comprehensive means of improving confinement conditions for detained youth, focuses on ways for facility managers to create safer, more secure and more therapeutic environments for juveniles in custody.

The event will be moderated by Dr. David Roush of the National Center for Youth in Custody, and scheduled panelists include Department of Justice representative Josh Delaney; Youth Law Center Executive Director Jennifer Rodriguez; Martinez-Tjaden, LLP, founder and senior partner Orlando Martinez; and Teresa Abreu, interim director of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Illinois.

The webinar is scheduled for 90 minutes, and will begin at 2 p.m. EST. Attendees can register for the free event at the following website:

Despite Criticism ‘Beyond Scared Straight’ Premieres 3rd Season, Experts Look to Alternative Programs

The controversial A&E Network series “Beyond Scared Straight” returns August 20 for a third season. If this 30-second teaser from A&E is any indication, viewers can expect more episodes filled with inmates and prison guards yelling at, verbally abusing and intimidating at-risk teens, with the apparent goal of creating “powerful experiences” that “break down walls” so that “kids will listen,” according to the video.

But while the television show may be enormously popular with viewers – in 2011 receiving A&E’s highest ratings ever for a series premier – experts nearly unanimously agree that Scared Straight-style programs create higher incidences of recidivism and do more harm than good for teens, and they can point to nearly 30 years of research as evidence.

“It is more likely to create kids who are going to get in trouble,” Joe Vignati, national juvenile justice specialist on the Executive Board of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, told JJIE in January 2011, when the series first premiered.

scared_straight_seriesIn a 2000 report by Anthony Petrosino, Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino and James O. Finckenauer that examines the effectiveness of Scared Straight-style programs, the authors write, “Few programs were as popular or well intentioned as Scared Straight. Yet, despite such popularity and benevolence, there is little evidence to suggest that the program is a deterrent to subsequent juvenile crime and delinquency. In contrast, the evidence strongly suggests that it leads to more crime by program participants.” In fact, the study found that Scared Straight-style programs increased crime between 1 percent and 28 percent in experimental groups when compared to groups who did not participate in similar programs.

Based in part on these studies, the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJPD) “discouraged” the use of Scared Straight-style programs.

A scene from the 3rd season of 'Beyond Scared Straight," courtesy A&E

But Scared Straight programs remain popular because “they fit with common notions by some on how to prevent or reduce crime (by 'getting tough')” and because  “they are very inexpensive (a Maryland program was estimated to cost less than $1 U.S. per participant),” according to a second report authored by Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino and John Buehler and most recently updated in November 2004.

So if Scared Straight doesn’t work what are the alternatives?

Research suggests mentoring may be the best option, according to an op-ed by Jeff Slowikowski, then the acting OJJDP administrator, and Laurie Robinson, assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, published by The Baltimore Sun in February 2011.

“Mentoring programs have been found to be effective in reducing incidents of delinquency, substance use and academic failure in participating youth,” they wrote. “Research has shown that mentoring relationships that last at least 12 months or through an entire school year are most effective. Further, youth in long-term mentoring relationships tend to improve their self-esteem, social skills and outlook about their future.”

Among mentoring programs for youth, the most well known may be Big Brothers Big Sisters. But other programs focus on specific populations of youth. We Stand for Kids, for example, works with the children of incarcerated adults with the hope of ending the cycle of incarceration.

Contact with inmates or offenders isn’t always negative, however, according to research by Phillip D. Holley and Dennis Brewster. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) instituted a program called “Speak Out” that takes offenders directly to the kids in schools or churches. Speaking about their own experiences, the offenders “attempt to inform community youth/parents/adults, etc. about the evils of crime, gang involvement, and life in prison,” according to the study, and to do so without the intimidation of typical Scared Straight-style programs.

A similar program in Texas known as Operation Kick-It brings inmates – dressed in their white prison jumpsuits – to high schools and to meet with other groups to speak to at-risk youth without the “audience intimidation and scare tactics,” according to Holley and Brewster. It is estimated the groups of inmates make more than 1,000 appearances a year and have spoken with between 200,000 and 300,000 youth since the program’s inception.

According to Strategies for Youth, effective youth programs should:

  • Provide large amounts of meaningful contact
  • Have a longer duration
  • Be “designed by a researcher or have research as an influential component of the treatment setting”
  • Offer behavioral, skill-oriented and multi-modal treatment
  • Be gender-specific and sensitive

Click here for JJIE’s complete coverage of “Beyond Scared Straight.”

Proposed Budget Cuts Loom for Juvenile Justice Programs

Youth advocates are ringing the alarm bells at Congress’s proposed levels of funding for state programs that would prevent young people from being locked up for skipping school, keep young offenders from being held in adult prisons and reduce the disproportionate numbers of minority youth in jail.

Since 2002, the funds available for states to implement Title II of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act have been slashed by more than half from $88.8 million, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which brings together citizens and public officials who work on juvenile justice issues in every state.

Current funding levels for Title II -- whose four core requirements aim to protect young people from being unfairly confined in prison -- are at $40 million, according to figures released by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice in April. The White House requested $70 million for the 2013 budgetary year, an amount unlikely to pass Congress.

If federal funds shrink further, states will have little incentive to meet federal guidelines for keeping juveniles out of the adult prison system, said Liz Ryan, president of the D.C.-based advocacy organization Campaign for Youth Justice.

“The less resources there are, the harder it is to implement the federal law,” Ryan said. “Eventually they may decide not to participate. And that’s what we’re afraid of, that states may walk away from this.”

The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed $33 million for Title II funding under the JJDPA, and the Senate $55 million – “a wholly insufficient appropriation,” according to Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Both figures are far below the $80 million that the Campaign for Youth Justice and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice want Congress to appropriate for 56 states and territories for the 2013 fiscal year, which technically begins Oct. 1, 2012.

 “I do think we haven’t done as good a job at demonstrating the results and marketing the results of these problems, particularly how the (law’s) core requirements have been met,” Ryan said. “But I don’t think that’s why the funding has gone down.”

The funds represent “a relatively small federal investment,” so they don’t get the kind of Congressional attention they should, Ryan said.

Budgetary woes underlay much of the discussions at the annual conference held by Coalition for Juvenile Justice in Washington, D.C., last month. Melodee Hanes, the acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, told a roomful of juvenile justice workers during her keynote address that her office’s budget had been halved in just the three years she had worked there.

“As unpleasant as some of these things are to talk about, I don’t have to tell you that these are very challenging times,” Hanes told her audience. “By all indications, funding is not going to come roaring out.”

But, Hanes said, state workers should not abandon hope. “We are going to stand with you as partners regardless of what the final funding bill is,” Hanes said. “If we need to learn new ways of doing business, we’ll do it and we’ll do it together.”

It’s unclear when Congress will finally pass a budget for this fiscal year. Hanes tried to turn that uncertainty into a cause for hope.

“A lot is going to happen between now and then,” Hanes said. “Anything can happen, trust me.”

Photo from the University of Minnesota.

Upcoming OJJDP Webinar Examines the Role of Families for LGBT Youth

On July 19, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) will present a webinar titled “The Critical Role of Families in Reducing Risk and Promoting Well-Being for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Intersex (LGBTQI) Youth.

The webinar is the second in the organization’s “Understanding and Overcoming the Challenges Faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Youth” series, and will focus on resources, strategies and tools used for family education and intervention.

During the webinar, research findings and program approaches from several organizations will be discussed, including techniques and data presented by The Family Acceptance Project, Greater Boston Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Green Chimneys Program of New York City and San Francisco State University.

The event will examine how family acceptance promotes the mental health and well being of LGBTQI youth, as well as techniques for reducing risks of depression, suicide, substance abuse, homelessness and potential sexual health hazards.

The webinar is sponsored by the National Training & Technical Assistance Center, a program operated by the OJJDP. The online presentation is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EDT, and will run approximately one and a half hours.

Electronic registration is required to stream the event. Those wishing to stream the webinar can sign up at their website.

Funding Opportunity: Become a Reclaiming Futures Site

Reclaiming Futures announced that the DOJ, OJP and OJJDP are seeking applications for $1.325 million in funding (over 4 years) to spread and implement the Reclaiming Futures model. More specifically, grants will be given to build the capacity of states, courts, local governments and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish Reclaiming Futures' juvenile drug courts.

From the request for proposals:

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is pleased to announce that it is seeking applications for funding under the FY 2012 Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures program. This program furthers the Department’s mission by building the capacity of states, state and local courts, units of local government, and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish juvenile drug courts for substance abusing juvenile offenders.

For more information and to apply, please click here. The deadline to apply is May 16, 2012, at 11:59 ET.

New Website Launched to Meet Needs of At-Risk and Delinquent Girls

This week, a new online resource with a focus on providing services to delinquent and potentially at-risk young females was launched by the United States Department of Justice.

The National Girls Institute, established in 2010 by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), is dedicated to providing local and private organizations with assistance and training to help prevent female minors from entering the nation’s juvenile justice system.

Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator of OJJDP, said that the organization has a responsibility to provide assistance, tools and other resources to programs designed to keep America’s girls out of courtrooms and detention facilities.

“This website,” she said, “is an important step forward in our efforts to improve the lives of girls across the country.”

In addition to providing technical assistance and training materials, the website also includes extensive data and tool sets, many of which are customized in regards to specific needs of young women and girls, including trauma and cultural responsiveness resources.

The National Girls Institute is also supported by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, director of the NCCD Center for Girls and Young Women, said the website is a critical resource for the general public to fully understand the many issues regarding young women and the nation’s juvenile justice system.

“The website will be a dynamic way to share timely information about the urgent needs of girls, as well as giving girls, their parents and caregivers practical resources,” she said. “Most importantly, the website provides a vehicle for bringing girls’ issues to the forefront, so we can effect positive change.”

Join the Fun, Help Ensure a Future for Juvenile Justice Coverage

Dear Patrons of

Lenoard Witt, Executive Director and Publisher,

Over the past year, professional journalists at the JJIE have told hundreds of stories that shine a spotlight on juvenile safety and justice issues.

Here are two ways you can help us continue to shine that spotlight.

First, help support and join the fun by bidding on some fantastic Silent Auction items. You might find your dream vacation, a house at the beach or lovely meals at fantastic restaurants. The bidding ends Feb. 3 and proceeds support the work we do.

Second, if you are in the area, come out and meet John Fleming, our editor, columnists like Judge Steve Teske, myself and rest of our staff at our Brews and News Fun-Raiser on Friday night, February 3 at the SweetWater Brewery in Atlanta. Lots of food and drink, plus let us introduce you to folks in person who you should know.

So it is a perfect formula: you get bargains, you get to network, you have fun and from our side we get to meet and talk to you. And you help us keep the spotlight shining on youth issues.

Thanks, I’ll see you online at the auction and/or on Friday, Feb. 3.

Please register now, and bring your friends and colleagues too.

Leonard Witt
Publisher, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

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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