WASHINGTON, D.C. – Juvenile justice advocates are dismayed by a new law that they say threatens to accelerate the fading relevance of juvenile justice reform within the federal government. To the chagrin of many, President Barack Obama has not nominated anyone for the U.S. Senate to confirm as a permanent leader of federal juvenile justice efforts since he took office. For three and a half years, the federal office responsible for setting national policy, sharing research on best practices and funding state initiatives on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has chugged along on temporary leadership, first under acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski and since January, under acting Administrator Melodee Hanes. If the White House does name a person to fill the long-vacant position – something unlikely to happen soon, advocates say, given a looming presidential election — such a Senate confirmation will never come. That’s because effective Aug.
Last week, Melody Hanes assumed the mantle of acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a temporary position held for three years by her predecesor. She may be there just as long. The Obama administration appears in no hurry to permanently fill the position and controversial legislation to remove Senate approval for the OJJDP administrator passed the Senate but is stalled in the House. While Congress debates the issue, Hanes, formerly the Deputy Administrator for Policy at OJJDP, faces an uphill battle as acting administrator of an agency that has had its budget slashed nearly $150 million by Congress in recent years. But former colleagues say Hanes, a one-time prosecutor and law professor, is uniquely qualified to make the most of a job hamstrung by its lack of permanence.
After nearly three years as acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Jeff Slowikowski is stepping down. According to a statement Wednesday by Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Laurie O. Robinson, the White House has named Melodee Hanes as new acting administrator. Hanes was formerly the principal deputy administrator for OJJDP, serving as counselor to Slowikowski. “We have welcomed the expertise and energy that Melodee Hanes has brought to the office in her role as counselor to the acting administrator–and will continue to bring to her new leadership role,” Robinson said. “Improving the quality of life for children, while ensuring their safety, is a priority for the Attorney General and I look forward to her leadership within the Office of Justice Programs.”
Slowikowski will remain at OJJDP as acting deputy administrator for policy.
Since the 1980’s, nearly every state has passed or expanded juvenile transfer laws that allow kids to be tried as adults in some cases. But a recent report from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) found that only 13 states publicly report how many kids are transferred each year and even fewer report any details of those transfers. According to the report, in the states that publicly reported, 14,000 youth were transferred to criminal courts in 2007, the last year data was available. However, that number has declined sharply since 1994. Writing in the report, OJJDP Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski said, “To obtain the critical information that policymakers, planners, and other concerned citizens need to assess the impact of expanded transfer laws, we must extend our knowledge of the prosecution of juveniles in criminal courts.”
Young people accused of a crime are sent to juvenile or criminal court, in part, based on their age — 18 in most states, but as young as 16 in others, the report says.
Angelo Speziale may be the most infamous graduate of Scared Straight! As a scrawny 16-year-old, he appeared in the original Scared Straight! documentary filmed at New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison in 1978. Now he’s back–serving 25-to-life in Rahway for the 1982 rape and murder of a teenage girl who lived next door to him. Proponents of “Scared Straight” claim the program literally scares kids away from a life of crime. In a follow-up show called Scared Straight: 20 Years Later, Speziale echoed this, claiming the experience changed him. Apparently not enough. He was arrested for shoplifting in 2005 and a DNA sample linked him to the 30-year-old cold case murder for which he was convicted in 2010. A New Jersey law enforcement source confirms Angelo Speziale is the same person who appeared in both documentaries.
About 1 out of 10 kids in 6th – 10th grades are getting bullied, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and they believe that 13 percent of kids in that age group are doing the bullying. “Bullying can have long-term consequences for the safety of youth, as evidenced by the fact that two-thirds of school shooters reported having been bullied or having bullied others,” Jeff Slowikowski, OJJDP’s acting administrator, points out in his Department of Justice blog. The Department of Justice has launched the Defending Childhood Initiative, which is a nationwide campaign focusing on children exposed to different forms of violence including bullying. DOJ spent $5.5 million last year and hopes to increase the budget to $37 million in FY 2011.