OP-ED: Federal Leadership Moving in Right Direction with New Grants

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Sylvia Johnson/Justice Policy Institute

Marc Schindler

Marc Schindler The renewal of an important public-private collaboration between the Office of Justice Programs and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a major accomplishment for the juvenile justice field, which has long called for more federal leadership and resources for reforms.

More specifically, the collaboration is a significant achievement for the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, which has advanced systems reform in juvenile justice for more than a decade and prioritizes the four areas of reform now advanced by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

This important collaboration will provide $2 million to expand the availability of training and technical assistance available to states and jurisdictions, provided by leading organizations with proven track records in the areas of:

All these organizations were originally funded through this partnership in 2011.

The OJJDP/MacArthur collaboration is a great example of the way a concentrated investment like that of the Models for Change initiative can generate broader successes. The Tuesday announcement follows years of diligent work from the field to develop research, tools and practices that can be replicated in other jurisdictions and are proven to generate positive results for youth and communities.

For example, the National Youth Screening and Assessment Project found that the sound implementation practice of risk assessment and comprehensive case planning led to a significant reduction in rates of youth on high levels of probation supervision in five out of six jurisdictions, and cut out-of-home placement rates by almost in half in jurisdictions that were placing more than 30 percent of their youth at some point during probation. This was accomplished without an increase in reoffending.

The Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice reports that in Hampden County, Mass., a multidisciplinary team meeting brought together case workers from multiple disciplines, the defender and prosecutor to comprehensively analyze risks, needs and treatment opportunities for the youth and family.

Since the implementation of the team approach, 77 percent of the 200 dual status youth involved in precourt conferences are being diverted from formal court prosecution. Hampden County is now tracking outcomes for these youth.

And while the OJJDP is moving in the right direction, I am one of many in the juvenile justice field who hopes the collaboration is only the beginning of continued stronger federal leadership to support hard-won advances that need ongoing vigilance and commitment.

As others have argued, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act should be strengthened and reauthorized, and funding needs to support its key provisions. In particular, there needs to be a deeper focus on reducing disproportionate minority contact under the Act.

This collaboration and these grants are also consistent with the recommendations from two major reports from the National Research Council. And OJJDP needs to go further to implement those findings.

The first National Research Council (NRC) report, “Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach” (2013) was the result of extensive research by leading academics and juvenile justice experts and practitioners, and supports recent reforms that move away from removing delinquent youth from their homes and communities, and instead focus on providing support for youth in developmentally informed ways that hold youth accountable for their offending while also promoting positive behaviors.

Researchers concluded that whether conducted in institutions or in communities, programs are more likely to have a positive impact when they focus on young people who have morechallenging issues with delinquency.

To make the biggest impact, we should focus resources and energy on the youth who need more from us, as opposed to the majority of young people who are engaging in sometimes problematic but normal and not dangerous adolescent behavior. Programs need to be based on what we know works with teenagers, meet youth where they are individually, and always engage their family and take into account the community in which they live.

The report also rightly stated that treating youth fairly and ensuring that they perceive that they have been treated fairly and with dignity actually contributes to positive outcomes. The NRC pointed out that many conventional practices in enforcement and administration magnify existing disparities in how youth are treated before they hit the justice system, and these contributors arewithin the reach of justice system policymakers.

The NRC called on the federal government and OJJDP to play a strong leadership role if these reform processes are to succeed and be sustained. At a time when the juvenile justice field is moving toward a more developmentally appropriate system, NRC said the field also needs technical assistance, training and other kinds of consultative services to help achieve that goal.

With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, the NRC has recently issuedImplementing Juvenile Justice Reform: The Federal Role” (2014). It recommends that OJJDP should collaborate with foundations and other youth-serving organizations to leverage resources and prioritize its research, training and technical assistance resources to promote the adoption of developmentally appropriate policies and practices.

Having spent many years in government, as well as working in the nonprofit sector and in private philanthropy, I know how difficult these types of public-private partnerships can be to get off the ground. With the renewal of this most recent partnership, OJJDP is taking an important step to implement the recommendations of the NRC. The federal agency and the MacArthur Foundation should be commended for their efforts to combine and align their resources to benefit the field. And let’s hope that this is one of many productive federal collaborations and investments to come.

Marc Schindler is the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. He previously served as general counsel and interim director at the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, and partner with Venture Philanthropy Partners.

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