WASHINGTON, D.C. – With approximately 275 participants, representing 45 states and territories, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice held its annual conference in Washington, D.C. last week. Attendees included governor-appointed state advisory group members, judges, juvenile justice practitioners, advocates and youth.
Robert Listenbee, administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention delivered the conferences’ keynote address, discussing his goals for OJJDP, as well as giving an update on its current operations. Listenbee announced that despite the federal budget sequester, OJJDP would have no furloughs of employees. Funding will be reduced by 5 percent, he said, but that will bring his office to about the same level as last year. Listenbee said this was a positive sign, in light of the greater challenges other agencies are facing.
Although OJJDP’s overall budget will not change significantly, some areas, such as block grants, will get less funding. Listenbee said his office would look for ways to increase support for existing programs, and highlighted new initiatives, such as a forthcoming solicitation on emergency preparedness for juvenile justice facilities. He also praised President Barack Obama’s proposed FY2014 budget, saying “what is clear is that the administration has decided that reducing youth violence … is a high priority.”
Although there have been vast improvements in compliance with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act’s requirements “there’s still work to be done,” said Listenbee, particularly in the area of disproportionate minority confinement.
Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of D.C. Lawyers for Youth, followed Listenbee with a discussion of his organization’s campaign to raise public awareness about Washington, DC’s juvenile justice system. The campaign relied largely on infographics to show how money spent on punishment and incarceration could be better spent on evidence-based, front-end services. Although Washington, D.C. funding streams have not changed, Okonkwo said city council members are now more interested in diversion and evidence-based programs and in school rather than law enforcement-based responses to school discipline.
Young participants were particularly interested in Okonkwo’s talk, with several asking questions or sharing comments. Approximately 25 youth State Advisory Group members (SAG) attended the conference and participated on all levels, according to organizers. Ethan Viets-Vanlear, an 18-year-old member of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, participated in a meeting where he and other young adult attendees discussed creating an accountability tool to make sure the state advisory groups are engaging young people and doing it in the correct way. He also participated in Capitol Hill visits, and presented on effective juvenile justice practices in Chicago. Sharing this information is “important because I see how alternatives to punitive systems actually help and how ineffective the systems are now,” he said.
One workshop session focused on partnering with young people, and included a discussion of a training curriculum on the subject. Panelist Benjamin Deaton, a Kentucky SAG member, said that in addition to raising awareness about the curriculum, he wanted attendees to understand how easy it is to request technical assistance from OJJDP on youth engagement and other issues.
The final day of the conference, Saturday, included plenary discussions on juvenile justice system reforms, such as preventing court involvement of non-delinquent youth and reforming state juvenile codes.
As JJIE reported last week, Georgia recently enacted major reforms to the state’s juvenile code. Many of the individuals critical to spearheading that effort spoke at one of the Saturday plenary sessions. Panelists focused on the impetus behind reform, data-driven changes, and implementation issues.
Panelists, including frequent JJIE op-ed contributor Judge Steve Teske, chief judge of Clayton County Juvenile Court and Joseph Vignati, administrator of the Justice Division for the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, urged the audience to consider reforms in their own states and look at their own returns on public safety investment, juvenile recidivism rates and the use of out-of-home placements for low-level offenders. Tanya Washington, senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said she and her colleagues hope this effort will show Georgia and other states that doing the right thing works, saves money and keeps people safe.
Other sessions on Saturday focused on building system-community partnerships in juvenile justice reform and reducing school-based arrests.
Sergeant Paul Grech, supervisor of school police and security at the Bridgeport, Conn., police department discussed his original skepticism regarding the removal of school resource officers from schools. Grech explained that he expected arrests to go up, but the opposite happened. Getting police department support and creating a collaborative partnership between schools and law enforcement became key to successfully removing officers from schools, decreasing arrest rates and improving school climate, he said.
Lisa Pilnik, JD, MS, is a freelance writer, consultant, and co-founder of Child & Family Policy Associates, a Maryland-based consulting firm.
Jessica R. Kendall, JD is co-founder of Child & Family Policy Associates, a Maryland-based consulting firm, and has authored several books, articles and practice guides on child protection and juvenile justice issues.