Coming Soon: A Watershed Moment on DMC, p. 2

April 2, 2014

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If OJJDP is looking to strengthen its requirements regarding racial and ethnic equity, one target might be data reporting.

As of 2005, just 13 states reliably reported on the ethnicity of youth at various stages of the juvenile court process, leaving them unable to accurately account for the share of youth with Hispanic heritage. Though this situation is improving, problems persist in many states. And OJJDP’s own National DMC Databook still provides no information whatsoever on Hispanic youth, the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority population.

 As of 2005, just 13 states reliably reported on the ethnicity of youth at various stages of the juvenile court process.

OJJDP might also insist that states capture and analyze data at the local level, not just aggregate state figures. Most of the decisions affecting the treatment of youth — from arrest, diversion, detention, probation and placement — are typically handled at the local level. The dynamics of racial and ethnic equity operate far differently in Los Angeles than in Eureka, so state-level figures offer little benefit.

More fundamentally, OJJDP could promulgate (and really enforce) regulations that require meaningful action to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, following a clear set of protocols. It could require communities to establish active steering committees to examine disparities at the local level, meet regularly, develop action plans to address identified points of disparity and monitor the impact of their chosen strategies.

Beyond issuing new rules, OJJDP could also revamp its process for delivering technical support to states and local jurisdictions on racial and ethnic equity.

Advocates complain that the aid offered by OJJDP doesn’t adhere to important lessons gleaned through leading reform efforts, such as those conducted by the Burns Institute and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy. In these efforts, local leadership teams receive ongoing support from consultants with expertise not just in number crunching, but also in engaging system and community actors and facilitating deeper conversations to identify the hidden dynamics that often drive disparate treatment.

Bart Lubow
Photo courtesy of University of Maryland

“You can’t just parachute in,” says James Bell, founder and executive director of the Burns Institute. Currently, Bell explains, when jurisdictions request technical assistance from OJJDP “they’re gonna send someone in for some period of time, a day or two, maybe a week, and then you’re done until your next request.”

By contrast, says Bell, “When you get us, we’re gonna be there every month, we’re gonna be asking ‘What’s the progress? Did you do that?’  And we’re going to help you do it.  [It] has to be about moving a process. That’s why you need to be there a long time, to establish relationships and to move a process.”

Over the past decade, the Burns Institute has applied its intensive methodology in more than 100 jurisdictions nationwide, including many sites in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Likewise, through the Models for Change DMC Action network and other funders, the Center for Children’s Law and Policy has facilitated similar processes in many other jurisdictions. Often, these engagements have yielded encouraging results.

“We feel confident in the approach,” says Jason Szanyi, a staff attorney at CCLP. “We’re using it for a variety of funders. There’s faith in the process.”

To date, however, outside of a few smaller studies, none of these change models has ever been subject to an in-depth, independent evaluation to measure impact empirically, shed light on the characteristics of more vs. less successful sites, and examine critical factors in the timing or delivery of consulting support.

Here again, OJJDP support could make a pivotal difference.

SOLER

 

 

Mark Soler
Photo courtesy of Harvard University

Whether this type of evaluation research will be discussed at the March 28 event is anyone’s guess. The session will include leading advocates such as Bell and Raquel Mariscal of the Burns Institute, Bart Lubow of the Casey Foundation and Juan Sanchez of Southwest Key, as well as researchers, judges and OJJDP staff.

Another prominent participant will be Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which leads the DMC action network in MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change project. Soler has a long commitment to the racial and ethnic disparities issue, which he has championed heartily at CCLP and as part of the Building Blocks for Youth initiative.

Soler, who got to know Listenbee as part of the Models for Change effort in Pennsylvania, has been deeply involved in the discussions leading up to the March 28 meeting. Reached by telephone, he expressed optimism.

“We’ve let Bob know that we see some problems [in how the agency has been addressing the racial and ethnic disparities challenge historically].  We’ve made some observations and recommendations, and Bob has been very interested,” Soler said.

“He has authority to make changes, and he realizes that there’s only a limited window to get things done,” Soler added. “So he’s doing what any responsible administrator would do — taking the ideas to his team, and to outside experts, after which he will make a final decision.

“We’re all eager to hear what that decision will be.”

 

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Dick Mendel is an independent writer and editor based in Baltimore who focuses on juvenile justice and other youth, poverty, and community development issues.

This commentary was originally published by the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) and is reprinted here with permission. 

This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA.  To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.

 

 
Dick Mendel

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