Block Grant Specter Looms Over Juvenile Justice

Bill Howard
March 1, 1996

Ira M. Schwartz is tossing a potentially lethal bombshell at efforts to perpetuate his old Office of Juvenile Justice. He is calling for the entire $144 million program to be converted into a block grant to the states — plus elimination of the 22-year-old office and its special interest "pork."

"The office isn't worth a damn and hasn't been for some time," Schwartz told YOUTH TODAY in an interview. The head of OJJDP during the Carter Administration who is now dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work added:

"It hasn't had leadership for a lot of years and frankly it's outlived its usefulness. Until there is an intelligent reassessment of what the federal juvenile justice role ought to be, I think the best thing we can do is take this money and put it in the hands of the states and let them decide how best to use it to tackle the juvenile crime issue."

Legislation to abolish OJJDP and turn the program into a block grant will be introduced soon in Congress, he said, but declined to identify who will sponsor the bill. Some $70 million of the agency's appropriation already is a kind of block grant, in the form of state formula grants administered by governors through juvenile justice state advisory groups (SAGs).

Killing off another Democrat-nurtured program is an idea GOP lawmakers out to balance the budget may find irresistible — especially coming from a prominent authority in the field like Schwartz — as they consider reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act this year.

On the other side of the coin Schwartz's proposal is making vastly more difficult efforts by the Ad Hoc Coalition on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and other lobbyists, to not only preserve the JJDP Act but keep it from being stripped of its prevention and rehabilitation mandates as President Clinton and lawmakers compete to legislate the mother of all crackdowns on violent juvenile "thugs."

In their attack on serious youth crimes, Schwartz said, states were already "eroding" the jurisdiction of juvenile courts by waiving youths to adult criminal courts and prisons. "We're going back to the pre-child labor days. Back to the late 1800s. We've come full circle. The federal government basically follows the states and now it has weighed in on the side of treating more juveniles as adults." This was a reference to legislation drawn up by Attorney General Janet Reno, the "Enhanced Prosecution of Dangerous Juvenile Offenders Act," after Clinton threatened stricter sanctions against juvenile crime in his Jan. 23 State of the Union address.

The measure would give federal prosecutors discretion to try as adults juveniles as young as 13 who are charged with serious crimes. Under current law, federal judges must grant such waivers.

"I'd like to see someone produce some evidence that throwing kids in adult prisons and jails is going to solve the juvenile crime problem," Schwartz said. To the contrary, he said a Minnesota study showed juveniles sent to adult prisons there had recidivism rates of 50 percent two years after their release and 85 to 90 percent after they were out five years.

Where Bilchik Stands

Asked how he would respond to any effort to abolish OJJDP, Shay Bilchik, the current Clinton-appointed administrator, said in an interview at his office: "I think we would fight very strongly for the continued existence of this office. It has the strong support of the (Justice) department and the Administration."

He declined to discuss specifics of Administration plans for reauthorization, saying we're pulling together information from the field, both on issues and priorities, and we're not at the point yet where we've developed a bill." The National Criminal Justice Association, directed by Gwen Holder, has been hired by Bilchik to stage two conferences of state public safety officials so they can register their observations on how the new bill should be written.

However, Bilchik, known for wholesale shipping of youth to adult prisons when he was an assistant prosecutor to Janet Reno in Miami's Dade County, said he opposed any move to eliminate the juvenile justice system.

"That's too much of a knee-jerk reaction to the violent crime problem," he told YOUTH TODAY. "States need to be looking at building the capacities within their juvenile court system to make it work — such as loading at the front end good assessments for the children who enter, treatment alternatives at the early end of the system — and then the whole continuum of activities supporting those kids and their families to give them a real chance at rehabilitation."

As for binding youths over to adult criminal courts, Bilchik said: "What you are looking for there is incapacitation — not a rehabilitative track." Such determinations, he added, should be made by juvenile court judges on a case-by-case basis considering all factors, not merely by the type of crime or the defendant's age.

"Should states retain the juvenile justice system? Absolutely. Children are much different than adults. While you can't say that applies to 100 percent of juvenile offenders — some are, indeed, chronic and more serious than others — the studies show the hardcore population is about 6 percent.

"Ninety-four percent of the kids coming into the system are obviously workable. Within that 6 percent a child-by-child review can determine which of those kids are workable in a juvenile system that, has the capacity to assess and treat and deliver services in a sustained manner. Then maybe you are left with a core population that you transfer out. That leaves a juvenile system that would still be able to work effectively with the vast majority of kids that come into contact with it."

On the issue of what he is doing to preserve the juvenile justice system, Bilchik said: "The federal role is to share information about what's happening out in the field. As a legislator in Colorado, do I know instantaneously what is happening in Florida, Georgia, New York and Alabama when some judge comes up with an innovative practice?" He said OJJDP is providing such information in its publications — and to 700 subscribers on the Internet.

The ‘Pork’ Eaters

Schwartz is scornful of long-standing arrangements in the law and the office that have guaranteed annual grants to the American Bar Association and others under the Law Related Education (LRE) program, the National Council of Family and Juvenile Family Court Judges to train judges, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to provide alternatives to membership in youth gangs and other perennial recipients of discretionary funds such as the National Office for Social Responsibility run by a Nixon-era youth official Robert Gemignani and the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise directed by black conservative activist Robert Woodson.

"It's not that these are bad organizations: they're good organizations. They do good things. But essentially they're living at the federal trough here, a form of pork. It's not what those discretionary dollars were intended for; they really were intended to address critical national issues that cross state boundaries — to help forge new knowledge in tackling juvenile crime from a preventive and treatment perspective.

"That's not how those dollars have been used. They provide those organizations with maintenance funds. And the training of judges is a state responsibility. Otherwise, why aren't we providing teacher training?

“The Ad Hoc Coalition is trying to hang onto this program in hopes somehow — at some later point — it might be resurrected to be an effective bully pulpit and play a major role in juvenile justice policy. The reality is that OJJDP is not."

Asked why he did not try to rid his program of special support for the judges and others, Bilchik replied: "It's a question for Congress. Congress tells me to fund an organization. I fund the organization. I happen to think, by the way, that the Boys and Girls Clubs and LRE do excellent work out in the field."

O'Neal: Save Act's Mandates

Harsher penalties for youths who murder and rape by binding them over to adult court is okay, says Gordon Raley, director of the National Assembly of National Voluntary Health and Social Welfare Organizations, who helped write the original act in 1974 and has had a hand in all subsequent renewals of the law.

"But if someone wants to take the word 'prevention' out of the act or out of the title, or subtitles, or eliminate the resources for prevention, it would be a serious mistake. We'd have a worse juvenile crime problem four years from now than we have today," he said.

Clinton and several lawmakers have set the debate's tone, Raley believes wrongly, by referring at times to juvenile offenders as "thugs" and thereby tilting the political discussion towards stiffer punishment for all delinquents and against rehabilitation. In his State of the Union address, Clinton declared:

"Our next step in the fight against it- crime is to take on gangs the way we took on the mob. I am directing the FBI and other investigative agencies to target gangs that involve juveniles in violent crime and to seek authority to prosecute as adults teenagers who kill and maim like adults..."

"Juvenile violence is rampant. Juvenile crime is exploding. Juvenile killers are threatening the fabric of our society — and it's only going to get worse," conservative Republican Sen. John Ashcroft, a former Missouri state attorney general and governor, asserted in introducing legislation last fall that could be a model for overhauling the JJDP Act. The measure would encourage states to prosecute and punish as adults offenders aged 14 to 17 charged with murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, rape and serious drug offenses.

In line with previous conservative objections to the JJDP Act's protections, Ashcroft's bill also would unseal all juvenile crime records for schools and police. Juveniles with two felony convictions would have their records made public and judges could use juvenile felony records in sentencing a person who commits another crime as an adult.

At hearings in Memphis and Nashville during February, Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary's Youth Violence Subcommittee handling the JJDP Act reauthorization, broached the subject of converting the program into a block grant to free up more money, as suggested by Ira Schwartz, to combat violent youth crime.

Linda O'Neal, head of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, told him she opposed the idea, declaring that the JJDP Act mandates had had "an incredibly positive impact" on her state, citing its jail removal provision as a prime example. The problem has almost been eliminated since the early 1980s when over 8,400 children were locked up each year in adult Tennessee jails, she said. In the most recent monitoring period here were only nine such cases.

Saying there was "clearly a need for a federal presence in the juvenile justice system," O'Neal added tartly:

"States will always find the funds to deal with the serious and violent offenders like they always find money for prisons. Unfortunately, they will not find the funds to provide critically needed prevention and early intervention services."

Thompson, former Republican counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee who turned actor and played in 16 films, including “The Hunt for Red October," hasn't taken any positions publicly on renewing the juvenile justice program. However, says one committee informant, "the senator wants to go over the Office of Juvenile Justice's program line by line and ask what kind of bang are we getting for the buck?" More hearings are to be held in Washington.

Reno's Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has drafted a new federal "Action Plan" to be released in March that gives limited endorsement to the waiving of juveniles to the adult criminal system and could figure in the reauthorization debate.

Circling the Wagons

Fearing a straight-up reauthorization is impossible, youth advocates are drafting a bill of their own that, as one puts it, will be a "preemptive strike," something advocates can support because, while the "rhetoric will be a bit flamboyant and fairly conservative — and sounding like it was written by a Republican — it protects the mandates in the original act." Namely: deinstitutionalization of status offenders, separation of juveniles from adults in lockups, an emphasis on early intervention, prevention and treatment of offenders and on youth development in community-based facilities.

The bill will retain a total award of $144 million: $70 million for the formula grant program, $10 million for the youth gang prevention, $10 million for state challenge grants (Part E), $4 million for juvenile mentoring and $20 million for Title V incentive grants program. One-third of formula grants would be targeted at serious and chronic offenders, one-third to improve the system and one-third for prevention projects.

The draft is being fashioned by a seven-member group within the Ad Hoc Coalition chaired by Bob Baughman of the National Coalition for Juvenile Justice which is OJJDP-funded and represents the juvenile justice SAGs. Members include: Kim Wade of the Children's Defense Fund, Mildred Wurf of Girls Inc., Bob Schwartz of the American Bar Association and the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, Miriam Rollin, National Association of Child Advocates, Nexus Nichols, National Network for Youth, and Mark Solar, who heads the Washington office of the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center.

In hopes of preserving them from being swept up in any OJJDP block grant, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Paul Simon (Ill.) have introduced legislation that would reauthorize as is the $68.6 million run-away and homeless youth act. Title III of the JJDP Act that is administered by HHS. The bill would enact a straight up reauthorization of Justice's $5,9 million Missing Children Assistance Act and the $10 million local delinquency prevention challenge grants program.

Recalling a recent visit with Frances Dodd, who coordinates the Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs (VCRHYP). Leahy said in a statement: "Neglecting the needs of runaway and homeless youth and their families would have staggering economic implications." He cited VCRHYP figures which showed their average cost for each of 700 youth served, plus more than 1,000 family members, was $1,895 compared to $50,000 a year to treat a person for substance abuse or $60,000 to imprison them.

A focus on costs could help warm up the debate over the entire JJDP Act's future — not whether it should become just another funding source to pursue violent young offenders.

Sidebar:

Block Grant Specter Looms Over Juvenile Justice: Agency by Agency Damage Report: Reno Names New ‘Czar’ on Youth Violence


Howard, Bill. "Block Grant Specter Looms Over Juvenile Justice."Youth Today, March/April 1996, p. 26-27.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.

#

tags

3

Comments

Good work Ira! I hope you don&;t retire from the kid advocacy business, you are needed. Wish Jerry Miller and crew were still around. They are certifying the whole world and every kid in it to prison. What the hell did Utah build the 5 maximum security kiddy prisons for if they are all going to the joint for serious delinquency? Now the light weight kids are filling the kiddy prisons in youth corrections, 45% Hispanic the rest poor whites and other minorities. So much for the Utah experiment of alternatives to incarceration. Its totally lock em up time! Layne Meacham Lloyd E. Ohlin Center

Worldwide Clobetasol Lichen Planus Cod Internet Store Express Delivery Newcastle Is Keflex A Type Of Pennicillin [url=http://cialiorder.com]cheap cialis online[/url] Cephalexin Ibuprofen Order now on line isotretinoin medicine fedex shipping

Effet Secondaire Cialis Generique [url=http://cheapciali.com]cheapest cialis 20mg[/url] Best Canadian Prices For Pfizer Viagra Levitra Tagesdosis