Listenbee Takes Over as Federal Head of Juvenile Justice

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Defense attorney Robert Listenbee Jr., who led the juvenile defense unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia since 1997, took the oath of office today to become the first permanent administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in more than four years.

The OJJDP updated its website Monday morning to announce Listenbee’s first day of work, which comes seven weeks after President Barack Obama announced hisintent to nominate him to the post and more than four years since the president first took office.

J. Robert Flores, the last permanent administrator, resigned his position in 2008 under then-President George W. Bush. In January 2009, Bush appointed Jeff Slowikowski as acting administrator, a position he held for three years. In January 2012, Slowikowski was replaced by Melodee Hanes.

Listenbee becomes the first defense attorney to lead the federal office as well as the first African-American. He gave an interview to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange in February, describing his work on reforms within Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system and the insights he brings to the national stage.

“There’s a very large juvenile justice community that is woven together fairly extensively, and that community is yearning for a clear direction at this point about where juvenile justice practice should be heading,” Listenbee told JJIE last month. “And certainly I’ll be working with the professionals at the OJJDP and colleagues in the field throughout the nation to make sure we give a clear direction to where we want to go.”

His first actions after taking the oath of office would be to get oriented and talk to his immediate supervisors, including Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, to make sure he understood the priorities of the attorney general and the president, Listenbee told JJIE at the time.

“They’re the ones who have appointed me, and I want to make sure that I maintain fidelity to their priorities as well,” Listenbee said. “I certainly have an awful lot that I think is important based on my many years in juvenile justice, and I certainly will be seeking to share that and agree on a set of priorities.”

Based on Listenbee’s previous work, his priorities appear likely to include an emphasis on reducing racial disproportionalities, improving children’s access to quality counsel, and improving youth and family engagement.

“You go to countless jurisdictions where you do not find children having lawyers to represent them at all kinds of proceedings, or children are represented through the dispositional stage but once they go into placement there are no lawyers to represent them,” Listenbee told JJIE at the time. “Many of them languish in placement for extended periods of time, often without just cause. And that’s of deep concern to me.”

Reactions from national and local child justice advocates to news of Listenbee’s nomination appeared overwhelmingly positive.

Listenbee’s biography is now on the OJJDP site.

Photo by DTKindler | Flickr

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