Proposed Budget Cuts Loom for Juvenile Justice Programs

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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.

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