A Thanksgiving Reflection: How Advocacy Can Make a Difference

John LashEarly this week, I was having Thanksgiving dinner with my fiancée. She is on her way home for the holiday, and I am staying in Georgia to work on my final paper for school and take care of a few other tasks, so we shared the meal a few days early. Before we began to eat, we took a few moments to talk about what we have been grateful for this past year. It was a pretty long list for both of us, and touched on our relationships, our work, good health, and many other things.

It seems that gratitude has been coming up a lot in my life lately, in discussions with friends and online. People on Facebook have been posting each day about what they are appreciating in their lives. I have been enjoying reading their reflections. It is easy to overlook the many blessings that we have, and to focus on what is missing or what could be just a little better. Intentionally bringing our awareness to what is going well in our lives is a great remedy for a lot of our imagined problems.

My own life is remarkably different than it was just a few years ago. Thanksgiving of 2009 saw me still in prison, unsure of whether the parole board would give me another chance at life on the outside. For many years I had lived with the assurance that I would never be released, and then in 2006 a tiny bit of hope appeared to me, literally. It was the Refuge of Hope, a Christian home (not a half-way house they will adamantly insist) for men being released from prison. I went there in December of 2009, got my feet under me, and then in 2011 enrolled in the Masters in Conflict Management Program at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta.

Today I work at the Georgia Conflict Center in Athens, Ga. I share communications skills and conflict management strategies with a diverse group of clients, including school kids and volunteers from impoverished neighborhoods in the city. We are working to develop a restorative justice program for juveniles that will meet the needs of crime victims as well as the kids who harm them. Wednesday night I facilitated a three-hour mediation involving a dispute between couples and friends.

I am grateful to be able to do this work, and especially to be able to write for JJIE and Youth Today. When I was in prison, very few people were concerned with my opinion, but on these pages what I have to offer is valued by many readers precisely because of my experiences with the criminal justice system.

I am not an indifferent observer of facts. My views, shared here for more than a year, are born of my own life. I was a deeply disturbed and harmful person as a teenager. I was a prisoner, and I learned not only to survive, but to grow and change. Now I am a man doing the work I am called to do, hopefully making a small impact on this world, and, I pray, on the lives of the young people I am coming into contact with. From someone who lived violently, I have become an advocate for peace.

It is strange to reflect that 25 years ago the state contemplated killing me as punishment for my crime. Later, when I had a life sentence, the state contemplated letting me die in prison. Neither of those things happened, because a few people decided to take a chance on me.

I don’t need a scientific survey or brain scan to know that young people can change, because I have lived that change. I advocate for young people now because I have an unshakeable faith that they too can change and become productive members of this world on the outside of prison. I believe in mercy because it was extended to me when I most needed it. For that I am thankful, and I hope and pray to see the same mercy extended to as many children as possible. Happy Thanksgiving.

Boy Scout Confidential Files Reveal Patterns of Abuse

At the law offices of Gordon, Thomas and Honeywell in downtown Seattle, an entire wall was devoted to files of Boy Scout volunteers who have been kicked out since the 1940s. Paralegal Bob McFadden replaces one of the file boxes. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has come under fire as its “Confidential Files” – a blacklist of adults banned from scouting for sexual abuse or molestation -- have come to light. The files, submitted as evidence in lawsuits under court order, show the BSA banned about 5,000 people from 1947 through 2004.

Sexual abuse scandals within other youth-service oriented programs show similar patterns of behavior, including workers dismissing victims, hiding abuse from the public, putting too much faith in adult colleagues and organizations failing to educate staff about abuse.

As the problem becomes more public because of scandals such as the Penn State and Catholic Church child sexual-abuse scandals, it has become more apparent that these patterns of behavior are similar among those who mishandle the problem. For the full story via Youth Today, click here.

Kennesaw State University Awards Ruth Ann Harnisch An Honorary Doctorate

Ruth Harnisch
From left: Leonard Witt, William Harnisch, Ruth Ann Harnisch, Dr. Daniel Papp

Kennesaw State University awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Ruth Ann Harnisch, a philanthropist whose foundation has supported cutting-edge approaches to gathering and disseminating news.

The honorary doctorate ─ the 14th awarded in Kennesaw State’s 49-year history ─ was bestowed today during the university’s commencement ceremony for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Harnisch, a former journalist with more than 30 years of experience in print and broadcasting, is president of the New York-based Harnisch Foundation, which in 2009 awarded $1.5 million to establish the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State.

“Kennesaw State University is pleased to award this honorary doctorate to Ms. Harnisch,” said Kennesaw State President Daniel S. Papp.  “In so doing, we are recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of an exceptional person, known nationally as a philanthropist who truly has made a difference, as well as a ground-breaking journalist.”

A self-described “recovering journalist” and “donor activist,” Harnisch is a proponent of creative philanthropy that produces sustainable social change.  She founded The Harnisch Foundation in 1998.

Harnisch said she was drawn to the idea of funding the Center for Sustainable Journalism after reading blogs by Leonard Witt, Kennesaw State’s Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication and the center’s executive director. The center is designed to research and develop ethical and sustainable new ways to produce and distribute news.  It is home to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, the only national news website covering juvenile justice. In March, the center announced that it will begin publishing Youth Today, a nationally distributed print and online newspaper targeted to professionals in the youth services field.

“The honor of working with Len Witt and his team is reward enough,” said Harnisch, whose foundation supports other experiments in producing and distributing news and information, as well as collegiate journalism programs. “While I am pleased to receive the honorary doctorate, Kennesaw State’s innovative, cutting-edge experiments in new ways of delivering high-quality information are what is important and what I hope everyone will notice. The Center for Sustainable Journalism is making strides as a leader in a thoughtful conversation that is important for our nation to have about juvenile justice.”

Witt attributes the Center for Sustainable Journalism’s important work to Harnisch’s “intellectual, inspirational and financial support.”

“Thanks to her visionary work, the center can have a lasting impact on the way journalism is practiced and also on the way our most disadvantaged children are perceived,” Witt said.  “She is truly deserving of this special honor."

Harnisch started her career at the Buffalo (NY) Courier-Express and worked 17 years as a columnist for the Nashville (Tenn.) Banner.  She hosted a radio talk show on WLAC-AM and worked 15 years as a television news reporter and anchor for Nashville’s CBS affiliate.

Harnisch’s career expanded to include her interests in philanthropy and professional coaching.  A certified master coach, Harnisch was a founding funder of The Institute of Coaching at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital. The institute is an outgrowth of the grant-making Foundation of Coaching, which Harnisch created with David Goldsmith in 2006 to support academic research in the coaching field.

In addition, Harnisch supports the “Ideas Worth Spreading” mission of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) community. She is a founding funder of the TED Fellows program, which brings together world-changing achievers, and a co-founder of SupporTED, an independent program offering pro bono coaching and mentoring to the TED Fellows.

Harnisch is a member of Women Moving Millions, a philanthropic initiative of women who give at least $1 million dollars to non-profits benefiting women and girls. She also holds a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Baruch College in New York.

Center for Sustainable Journalism is Now Home to Youth Today

The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University will begin publishing Youth Today, the nationally distributed newspaper that is read online and in print by thousands of professionals in the youth services field.

 “Having Youth Today housed at Kennesaw State University is a perfect fit,” said Ken Harmon, KSU provost. “We have undergraduate and advanced degree programs in compatible areas, including journalism, social work, criminology, conflict management, educational leadership and other health and human sciences, all of which can provide best practice training and research to advance the Youth Today mission.”

Leonard Witt, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism, said the addition of Youth Today to the center’s publishing portfolio is an excellent extension of the work it does.

“We now publish the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange,, the only entity to cover juvenile justice every day with professional journalists, so this is a natural addition to the work we do,” Witt said. “We will be able to get Youth Today back to its full potential, while expanding the reach at the same time.”

Financial challenges almost led to the demise of the subscription-based newspaper that covers a wide range of issues including juvenile justice, foster care, mentoring, substance abuse, sexual behavior, after school programs, mentoring, youth employment, child welfare, college and careers, gangs, violence prevention, adolescent health, teen pregnancy and parenting.

Youth Today was founded in 1984 and features in-depth articles on issues and events of major importance to professionals who work with America’s youth. Winner of several journalism awards, Youth Today also provides insightful commentary that readers rely on to improve their organizations’ operations and functions.

"The board has been working hard to deal with the organization's financial challenges and to ensure the survival of Youth Today,” said Brant Houston, board chair of the American Youth Work Center, which is Youth Today’s umbrella organization. “We are pleased that Leonard Witt and Kennesaw State have agreed to produce Youth Today and we are confident that under their stewardship the publication will be a success.”

John Fleming, editor, who now will provide editorial leadership for both publications, says, “Our children are our country’s most treasured resource. The people who serve them must have a trusted source of high quality information, which has been the hallmark of Youth Today. Now that legacy will go forward into the future with an added dose of investigative reporting.”

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 The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University has one central mission: to ensure that high quality, ethically sound journalism continues to have a vibrant place in our democracy. The Center produces research and nurtures innovative ideas, incubates new projects and launches applications all in a financially sustainable atmosphere, while forming partnerships with entrepreneurial-minded individuals, media companies and academic institutions. In addition to publishing its centerpiece project, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange,, it produces conferences and training both online and face to face. Its founding was made possible in part by a generous gift from the Harnisch Foundation, under the supervision of Ruth Ann Harnisch.

Kennesaw State University is the third-largest university in Georgia, offering 80 graduate and undergraduate degrees, including doctorates in education, business and nursing, and a new Ph.D. in international conflict management. A member of the 35-unit University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State is a comprehensive, residential institution with a growing population of 24,100 students from more than 130 countries.

States Respond to Budget Shortfalls with Hodgepodge of Juvenile Justice Cuts

Around the nation, states continue to grapple with the reality of budget shortfalls with a hodgepodge of cuts to various programs, including juvenile justice.


North Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is being forced to cut spending by 10 percent while eliminating roughly 275 positions, a 15 percent decrease in work force, under the new FY 2012 budget.

Also gone are 75 beds from the state’s seven youth development centers, raising concerns that serious offenders may end up back on the streets to make room for new juveniles entering the facilities.


Alabama’s Department of Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention has a FY 2012 budget a little more than half that of FY 2011. The department saw a 74 percent drop in general state funding and significant cuts from the federal-level.

“I don’t see the system being able to recover in my working lifetime,” said DCANP Director Kelly Parris-Barnes. “When you take the community level programs out you don’t have the capacity at the state level to do it.”

Not a direct service provider themselves, the DCANP allocates funds for community-based programs around the state. Of the 174 programs the department funded in FY 2011, just 101 are slated for FY 2012, according to Deputy Director Greg Smith.


On the surface, Idaho’s Department of Juvenile Corrections has seen an increase in funding heading into FY 2011-2012. The budget has increased, said Chief Fiscal Officer Scott Johnson, but the department also absorbed the now defunct Office of Drug Policy.

“The impact is huge,” Johnson said. “All we got was the money. We didn’t get any additional personnel for managing a $4 million program. We’re basically having to design a substance abuse program from the ground up.”

Overall the department saw a $1.1 million decrease in its operating budget, but has largely been able to offset the shortfall due to cost-cutting measures and a decrease in state population.


Maryland added $3.2 million to its Department of Juvenile Services for FY 2012, but the increase is expected to restore employee furlough days, according to a budget analysis outlined by Youth Today. The department still expects to see a reduction in evidence-based services.

Down 12 percent since FY 2011, Louisiana’s Department of Youth Services has seen more than a 20 percent decline in funding since FY 2008.

Texas has begun the closure of the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in an effort to bridge a $117 million shortfall over the next two years.


States around the country have dealt with the decline in available funds for juvenile justice and other related programs in their own ways. This article is merely a snapshot of some of the realities on the ground.

Youth Today has started an open-ended compilation of state-by-state spending on juvenile justice, child welfare and youth to help make sense of all the numbers.



House Approps May Gut Spending on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act

U.S. House of RepresentativesThe House subcommittee that oversees Justice Department funding produced an appropriations bill this week that would slash activities authorized by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 2012.

The draft bill, marked up by the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and State (CJS), would not fund demonstration grants, Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG) or Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants. In 2010, the last year Congress actually passed an appropriations package, those three streams totaled $231 million.

The bill would also drop 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 - from $75 million in 2010 to $40 million.

The full appropriations committee will vote on the proposed funding levels for Justice on Wednesday, July 13, according to a memo published by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice on its website.

Many in the juvenile justice field have been unhappy with the way that the funding streams now on the chopping block were spent. Title V grants were intended to be given to state advisory groups to develop efforts to prevent juvenile crime; in recent years they were almost entirely allocated by Congress to enforcement of underage drinking laws, tribal areas and gang intervention.

Demonstration grants, which once funded coordinated efforts at research and pilot testing of juvenile justice strategies, became an earmark trough for congressmen.

President Barack Obama originally proposed in his 2012 budget to eliminate formula and JABG funding in favor of a Race to the Top-style incentive grant program, where conforming to basic standards was only a state’s ticket into the competition for big system improvement grants.

After a steady stream of criticism from advocates, the administration revised its budget proposal with most of the grants intact with only a small carve-out for its incentive grant concept.

The CJS subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), does not propose to use savings from the formula grants or JABG for a new incentive program.

The subcommittee proposes $83 million for mentoring activities, which is $17 million less than 2010 appropriations.

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.

Obama Budget Calls for Cuts in Juvenile Justice Programs and Revamps Funding Formulas for States

Juvenile Justice Programs across the nation could face $50 million in cuts outlined in the White House budget proposal.   The Obama budget calls for “tough choices,” including a revamp of the way states must qualify for funding, based on how well they meet federal standards.

Title II formula grants would come out of a $120 million fund called the Juvenile Justice System Incentive Grants.  States would have to compete for rewards, based on how well they use evidence-based strategies, diversion programs and whether they reduce disproportionate minority contact (DMC). Youth Today digs into this new concept and how it might work.

The President’s budget is a mix of cuts paired with some increases that could affect communities in different ways, according to On the plus side, the Justice Department may get a 2% increase over all, including more money for the FBI, and $600 million for communities to hire first responder police officers. On the down side, the DEA faces cuts, and the Office of Justice Programs could take a large hit, hurting state and local crime prevention.

Republican proposals from the House Appropriations Committee are even more severe, according to Youth Today. That plan would cut all funding to programs like YouthBuild, teen pregnancy prevention, Teach for America, and state grants for incarcerated youth.  AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service would be gutted.  Juvenile justice grants and Law Enforcement Assistance Grants (including Byrne) would face sharp reductions.

Thanks 9,000 Visitors, We Will Make a Difference

I love to give you updates because they are so positive.

Leonard Witt

Today the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange,, broke the 9,000 unique visitor per month mark and we have had more than 20,000 page views for the month. Each weekday nearly 500 visitors come to the site with more than 800 page views. Of those, about 40 percent are coming from Georgia.

Remember we are a small niche news operation, but this rapid growth in numbers tells me we are on to something important. Youth Today, the nationally distributed newspaper focusing on children's issues, agrees, writing last week:

Speaking of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: If we haven’t mentioned it before, kudos to the Center for Sustainable Journalism, housed at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, for starting the project. The content is Georgia-centric, for obvious reasons, but JJIE is already putting out good discussion pieces on national juvenile justice issues. Very happy to have some journalism colleagues focused on juvenile justice.

And closer to home GaPolitico wrote:

I got a tip from someone connected to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. It is a great resource for dealing with Justice to those Children who are unfortunately caught up in our legal system.

What can you do to help? The easiest thing is to sign up for our newsletter on the home page, and also to "Like" us on our JJIEga Facebook page. Those two acts will help us build a community and to spread our stories far and wide.

Together we can produce positive change. Thanks.

Federal Funds Available to Help Foster Kids

The federal government is now pushing states to take part in two foster care programs that support guardianship placements and the extension of foster care up to age 21.

The two programs are part of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which was passed in 2009 and allows for federal IV-E funds to be more freely used, according to Youth Today.

According to the Act, teens will be eligible for these funds if they continue their education or get a job among other things.

As reported last month, more than 700 fostered teens in Georgia turn 18 this year and face an uncertain future, and a quarter of young people who age out become homeless within two years. But Georgia has apparently not applied for the money that might help them.

Twenty-three states have submitted IV-E guardianship placement plans and 11 have gotten final approval from the Administration for Children and Families, which oversees IV-E funds.

To date, Texas is the only state with a plan in place to increase the foster care age limit to 21.