The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is taking a new approach to Title II (the portion of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act authorizing states to innovate efforts to improve juvenile justice systems and ensure the fair treatment of youth) that will facilitate better communication and increase trust between OJJDP and the states. This will give OJJDP more time to focus on compliance and programming assistance, and it will allow states to redirect resources toward reducing disproportionate minority contact (DMC), while at the same time maintaining public safety, holding youth accountable for their conduct and empowering them to live crime-free.
In the 16 years since the last reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), OJJDP has distributed roughly $800 million of Title II formula grant funds to the states to address juvenile delinquency and support improvements to the juvenile justice system. The funds also help states address the so-called “core protections” (deinstitutionalization of status offenders, separation of juveniles from adult inmates, and removal of juveniles from adult jails and lockups), as well as system efforts designed to reduce DMC with the juvenile justice system. While states continue to see good results in the deinstitutionalization of status offenders, sight and sound separation, and adult jail removal, the disproportionate involvement of minority youth in the justice system remains largely unchanged.
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As jurisdictions grapple with the disproportionate minority contact issue, OJJDP has likewise been reflecting on its practices, and we’ve identified a real opportunity for improvement. In 2002, when the reauthorization of the Act changed disproportionate minority “confinement” to disproportionate minority “contact,” OJJDP responded by identifying nine points in the system where disproportionality might occur. States were then required to collect and submit data on these nine contact points as part of their request for Title II funds, regardless of how difficult to collect or inaccessible the data proved to be.
Yet there was no requirement that DMC actually decline. As a result, whatever the DMC data showed wasn’t a factor in the award decisions. OJJDP has been incentivizing the process of data collection, rather than incentivizing the desired outcome of reduced disproportionate minority contact. Consequently, states have steadily improved their data reporting capabilities, while the DMC numbers have remained stagnant.
Time for something new to shift DMC
It is imperative that we shift from our current approach to one that better serves youth. While the Act prohibits the use of quotas for DMC reduction, the Act does not prevent assessment of DMC outcomes. If we are truly committed to reducing DMC, we cannot continue to simply distribute money and hope for a different result. It’s time to try something new.
After listening to valuable feedback from the field, and meeting with experienced practitioners, OJJDP is ready to implement a new, outcome-based approach to assessing states’ efforts to address the disproportionate contact of minority youth with the juvenile justice system. Beginning in fiscal year 2019 (Oct. 1), using a considerably streamlined Title II application, OJJDP will simplify DMC data collection requirements, ask states to identify how they define success with their DMC reduction efforts and ask them to evaluate the outcome of their DMC plan, to assess what impact it had, if any, on disproportionality.
States’ subsequent plans can build on the success of the previous year, or identify the intractable challenges still facing their jurisdictions, and continue working to resolve them. Each year, every state’s DMC goals, action plans and outcomes will be posted on the OJJDP website. Through public posting on the website, states and local jurisdictions will have access to the program ideas and successful strategies used in other states that might work in their own. Public posting of the self-identified goals will also help states be accountable to their taxpayers, thereby giving them incentive to set meaningful goals and engage in responsible efforts to reduce DMC while maintaining public safety, holding youth accountable for their conduct and helping them develop life skills.
Reducing DMC requires consideration of the myriad factors contributing to it. Some of those factors include the criminal conduct of youth, family instability, socioeconomic issues, under-resourced court systems, bias and the unintended consequences of policies and statutes. OJJDP will help states connect with training and technical assistance that address those factors, and any other factors that become apparent to states as they evaluate the outcomes of their DMC plans.
OJJDP’s commitment to reimagine its Title II work, particularly in the area of DMC, is reflected in its proposed office reorganization. Soon, both the compliance monitoring and the program work will reside in the reconstituted State Relations and Assistance Division (SRAD). Under the direction of TeNeane Bradford, SRAD monitors and specialists will assist states with their Title II programming, identify any compliance problems within states, then provide support and technical assistance to those states, both to return them to compliance and advance their core protections work.
Finally, OJJDP is realigning staff size as are other DOJ grant-making offices to ensure efficiency. Some have speculated that the ongoing reduction in workforce will prohibit OJJDP from adequately monitoring the states for compliance with the core protections. Nothing could be further from the truth. The redesigned organization, the new Title II timeline and streamlined application for funds, the outcome-based approach to DMC and the elimination of policy-based burdens placed on the states that exceed the requirements of the law will enhance OJJDP’s ability to monitor compliance and provide technical assistance.
We firmly believe that less regulation and a greater focus on evaluating impact is central to the states’ performance on the core protections and DMC reduction efforts while maintaining public safety, holding youth accountable and empowering them to live crime-free, productive lives.
Caren Harp is Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. She previously worked as both a prosecutor and a public defender and was an associate professor of law at Liberty University School of Law.