Federal Panel Takes Up JJDPA Reauthorization

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WASHINGTON — Long-overdue reauthorization of the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act will be the focus today for a federal committee that advises the Obama administration and congressional lawmakers on juvenile justice matters.

The 13-member Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ) meeting comes at a time of growing support for a bipartisan measure that is expected to reauthorize JJDPA. However, there are also concerns about steep declines in federal funding for juvenile justice in recent years.

The FACJJ meeting, which goes from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. EDT via webinar (register by clicking here), also will feature remarks by Robert L. Listenbee Jr., the administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

The union representing rank-and-file employees of the agency has called for Listenbee’s resignation, citing poor leadership and low morale. And Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has launched an inquiry into whistleblowers’ claims of fraud in awarding OJJDP grants to states that allegedly incarcerated vulnerable children with adults in violation of federal law.

Grassley and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., are expected to soon reintroduce a measure to reauthorize JJDPA. Juvenile justice advocates believe it will mirror a version introduced in December, during the last Congress.

The reauthorization measure called for a 2 percent annual increase in spending over each of the five years for which JJDPA would be reauthorized but does not give specifics. President Barack Obama’s juvenile justice budget requests have been slashed in recent years.

Some FACJJ members said strengthened requirements for states in the reauthorization measure would require additional funding to enable the states to comply.

“Keep in mind that as funding goes down, the ability to [comply with JJDPA] gets trickier,” said James Moeser, FACJJ vice chair and deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. “We’ve talked about sufficient funding to fulfill the mission, but to expect all these things and keep cutting money is a problem.”

The reauthorization bill is expected to call for changes to JJDPA “core requirements,” including phasing out exceptions allowing detention of “status offenders” who commit nonviolent offenses like skipping school or possessing alcohol; significantly strengthening a requirement to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system; reducing the number of youths placed in adult facilities; offering states incentives for relying less on incarceration, and improving education for incarcerated youths.

FACJJ committee member George W. Timberlake, a retired Illinois judge, said numerous states have been hamstrung by a shortage of federal juvenile justice funds.

“Because many of the states are very small and receive very little money, they cannot do much more than pay for those compliance activities, and that’s short-sighted, I think,” Timberlake said.

“If you have to spend all the funds that you get to see if your state is complying with the four core requirements, then you’re not left with anything to encourage better practice nor to attend to the other needs in your state, and the smallest states get a tiny amount of money.”

As JJIE reported last week, when congressional lawmakers last reauthorized JJDPA, in fiscal year 2002, they appropriated about $547 million for juvenile justice compared with today, when federal spending on juvenile justice totals less than half that amount — about $251 million.

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