The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is taking a new approach to Title II (the portion of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency 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.
The approach to the treatment of youthful offenders has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Systemic models that once focused on using vocational training as a means of rehabilitation have recently evolved into mental health-focused treatment programs and reentry efforts.
Those of us who have spent months and years working to make responses to youthful law violations effective, equitable and more just have much to be proud of. The volume of philanthropic investments working in sites directly, supporting research, advancing science, incentivizing advocacy and in some cases organizing have made a significant difference in youth justice practices.
Despite hundreds of millions in grants to reduce the overrepresentation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, youth of color still appear in disproportionate numbers in many areas of the system.
In prison I could often tell who would be a target for victimization. I developed this ability the old fashioned way, through observation. Predators abound in that world, so opportunities to witness their attacks were common. Whether it was robbery, rape, extortion or some other attempt to dominate those who were on the losing end had often had something in common. According to the convict code the victims were “weak.” This isn’t surprising, since the code was created by those with an interest in perpetuating such crimes.
This story produced by the Chicago Bureau. The close of 2012 focused so narrowly on terrible events and startling numbers – the Newtown massacre, for example, or Chicago’s sharp rise in homicides – some major criminal justice developments were nearly squeezed out of the national conversation. Take the statements made just over a week ago by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who vowed to take on the tricky issue of the skewed racial picture in the county’s corrections and justice system, including within the juvenile justice system. Speaking to a group of reporters, the news – including a statement that she will “work with the actors in the public safety arena” to lessen the overall corrections population and push alternatives to locking up non-violent offenders – the story got little more than a day’s play on the airwaves and in other media. Always outspoken, the board president served many years as an alderman fighting for various social justice causes, including race and drug issues (she at one point challenged the validity of any national “war on drugs”).
Last week, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released an updated fact sheet addressing disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the nation’s juvenile justice system. The OJJDP requires states participating in its Part B Formula Grants program to collect information about the effectiveness of programs and initiatives intended to address the overrepresentation of minority young people in state juvenile justice systems. Using a five-phase DMC reduction model, the OJJDP advises states to calculate disproportionality, assess “mechanisms” contributing to DMC and develop intervention, evaluation and monitoring programs to deter delinquency and initiate systematic improvements. According to 2011 data, 41 states now have DMC subcommittees under State Advisory Groups, while 37 have either part-time or state-level personnel designated as DMC coordinators. Twenty-nine states have collected DMC data at nine contact points within their juvenile justice systems, while an additional 13 have collected DMC data from at least six contact points. Thirty-four states, the updated data indicates, have invested in “targeted local DMC reduction sites.”
Regarding intervention practices, 34 states have implemented systems improvement and delinquency prevention strategies, while 30 have either funded or received funding and/or technical assistance to implement DMC reduction programs patterned after nationally recognized models.