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Attorney General Sessions Would Return Youth to the Harmful, Ineffective Dark Ages

As I watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce the termination of DACA, I was reminded how President Donald Trump had duped Democrats into actually supporting Sessions and arguing that he should not be removed as the head of the Justice Department. Sessions’ announcement meant the end of protections provided to nearly one million Dreamers under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

A few months before the DACA press conference, when Sessions erroneously claimed that children brought to the United States by their parents were taking jobs away from Americans, Trump publicly criticized Sessions and signaled that he might be one of several administration officials on the chopping block. But fearing that Sessions’ ouster might lead to the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, Democrats caved and called for the attorney general to keep his job. Just a few months earlier, in his confirmation hearings, these same Democrats were trying to stop Sessions from becoming the nation’s top cop while reading the words of Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, warning that Session was a racist.

There has been debate about whether Trump is crazy or crazy like a fox. Though clearly showing signs of mental instability at times, Trump seemed to outfox Democrats with this move. Democratic and Republican congressmen called on Trump to keep his attorney general in place, and the president, who usually shuns such pressure, either complied or enacted his ploy to deceive the Democrats. Either way, Sessions remains, more secure than ever.  

Sessions leads the Department of Justice, which encompasses the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The OJJDP distributes hundreds of millions of dollars to states for prevention, diversion and rehabilitation programs, including those that aim to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Yet his regressive policy agenda may dismantle the very reforms OJJDP has sought to achieve.

While the attorney general for Alabama, Sessions suggested that youth in the juvenile justice system be sent to “work camps” and argued for more funds to be spent on expanding youth incarceration. When he was on a youth violence subcommittee in the U.S. Senate, Sessions doubled down on his out-of-touch stance on juvenile justice, opposing prevention programs. In 2009, he also put forth an amendment to the reauthorization of juvenile justice funding to expand the number of children being charged and incarcerated as adults in the federal system.  

Early on in Trump’s presidency, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would no longer pursue federal orders to reform police agencies that abuse their powers and have a pattern and practice of discrimination. Then while speaking to officers in New York, Trump encouraged police to violate the Constitution by intentionally roughing up suspects.

Sessions has also rescinded Obama administration policy aimed at reducing the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes. The Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative implemented by former Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged federal prosecutors to not go after long sentences for those charged with nonviolent drug offenses, a policy that has become a universally accepted, nonpartisan issue.

Sessions is instead looking to revive the war on drugs that led America to excessive levels of mass incarceration. After several decades of over-reliance on ineffective, harmful and excessively expensive incarceration, the United States has finally seen a significant reduction in youth detention rates and the beginning of a decline in the number of adults in prison.

Jeff Sessions would like to take us back to the dark ages, and Trump duped Democrats into supporting him.

David Muhammad is the executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. He is the former chief probation officer of Alameda County in California and the former deputy commission of probation in New York City.

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 Justice.gov

Senate Bill to Extend Current Student Loan Interest Rates Defeated

Tuesday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked a bill backed by Democrats that would have kept interest rates for certain federal student loans from doubling this July.

By a 52-45 majority, GOP senators effectively killed the proposal – entitled the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act of 2012, it marking this Congress’ 21st successful filibuster of a Democratic-sponsored bill, according to The New York Times. If an extension of current federally-subsidized student loan rates does not occur, loan rates for undergraduate students are expected to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 later this summer.

According to recent reports, American students took out almost twice the value of student loans in 2011 - estimated at about $112 billion – than they did a decade ago. In 2010, student loan debt totaled approximately $1 trillion, eclipsing credit card debt as the nation’s second largest form of debt behind mortgages, USA Today reported.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and given White House backing, would have paid for the interest rate extension via higher payroll taxes and the elimination of certain tax benefits for some private companies. Republicans are currently pushing for an alternative extension bill proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, which would pay for the interest extension by making cuts to the preventative health care fund – a bill that President Obama has said he would veto if it passed in the Senate, The Washington Post reports.

According to The Boston Herald, the cost of keeping interest rates at their current levels is estimated at approximately $6 billion.

Photo by Collegeview.com

Congress Makes Further Cuts to Juvenile Justice Funding

House and Senate appropriations leaders finalized a “minibus” spending package that further reduces the relevance of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and possibly jeopardizes the office’s connection with state governments.

The bill - which funds the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development – trims the allocation from an already-reduced $275 million in fiscal 2011 to $262.5 million for fiscal 2012.

The minibus package contains another continuing resolution allowing the government to operate through December 16.

The structure of the juvenile justice funding comes from the Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill, which drastically reduced funding but kept some for each program of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Under the agreement reached by appropriations confereees, the funding levels for OJJDP’s biggest programs, which include state formula grants, mentoring and missing and exploited children, more closely mirror what was proposed by the House appropriators.

These are the funding levels, by fiscal year, for the office's major programs:

Title II Formula Grants to States
2012: $40 million
2011: $62 million
2010: $75 million

Title V Grants (Delinquency Prevention)
2012: $20 million
2011: $54 million
2010: $65 million

Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG)
2012: $30 million
2011: $45.65 million
2010: $55 million

Mentoring
2012: $78 million
2011: $83 million
2010: $100 million

Missing and Exploited Children
2012: $65 million
2011: $58.1 million
2010: $70 million

Victims of Child Abuse
2012: $18 million
2011: $18.68 million
2010: $22.5 million

Community-Based Violence Prevention
2012: $8 million
2011: $8.3 million
2010: $10 million

Prospects on what will happen with the formula funds are complicated. The funds are allocated to the states in exchange for their compliance with four core standards of juvenile justice operations: not detaining or incarcerating status offenders; keeping all juveniles out of adult jails, and separating them by sight and sound from adult detainees in the rare exceptions when jail is allowable; and addressing disproportionate minority contact in the system.

Title II funds are dispersed based on the under-18 population in each state, but nearly half the states receive the “minimum allocation” of $600,000. OJJDP can lower that minimum if the total amount for Title II drops below $75 million.

Last fiscal year, the department chose to keep the $600,000 allocation, and make the states with larger youth populations absorb 36 percent cuts.

If the department maintains the minimum allocation again in 2012, the more populous states would receive an even larger cut and some states have said they might consider opting out of participation in the JJDPA.

On the other hand, if they lower the minimum allocation, some juvenile justice advocates believe some of the smaller states will almost certainly opt out.

The entire Title V appropriation in the bill is consumed by tribal youth programs, Enforcement of Underage Drinking Laws (EUDL), and gang prevention, which means that no money will go to state advisory groups (SAG) to use for delinquency prevention projects.

President Barack Obama initially proposed a massive overhaul of juvenile justice spending for 2012, which would have combined the 2010 totals for formula grants and JABG, reduced it by $10 million, and created a $120 million Juvenile Justice System Incentive Grants program.

After the plan drew sharp criticism from some juvenile justice advocates and state juvenile justice leaders, the administration backed off the plan and pushed for $80 million in formula grants and $30 million for JABG, along with a new $10 million incentive grant competition.

Appropriators also provided $10 million for Attorney General Eric Holder’s Defending Childhood Initiative, which seeks to assist children who have witnessed or experienced violence. Among the other Justice appropriations that could end up going toward serving juvenile offenders:

-$63 million for the Second Chance Act, which assists adult and juvenile offenders reentering the community after incarceration, and had been zeroed out completely from the Senate’s appropriations bill.

-$20 million for sex offender management assistance under the Adam Walsh Act

-$15 million for “competitive grants to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system, to prevent or combat juvenile delinquency, and to assist victims of crime.”

The Department of Agriculture appropriations in the minibus agrement include $18.2 billion for Child Nutrition, more than a billion over the appropriation for 2010, and $6.6 billion for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a $700 million decrease from the 2010 figure.

Click here to view documents related to the minibus agreement.

Photo credit: Will Palmer/Flickr

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.