November | December 2012

News From the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice

Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice logo. On October 18–19, 2012, members of the reconstituted Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ) met for the second time in person in Washington, DC. Web-facilitated meetings were held in April and August 2012. In addition to furthering the committee's work, members received updates on OJJDP's activities and briefings on juvenile justice reform at the federal and state levels.

On the meeting's opening day, OJJDP's Acting Administrator Melodee Hanes reported that the Office is in the process of finalizing its program plan and will be restructuring the office to enhance OJJDP's service to the juvenile justice field. OJJDP's overall appropriation has dropped by 41 percent in the last 3 years—from nearly $462 million in 2009 to $277 million in 2012. OJJDP is currently operating under a 6-month continuing resolution, with funding frozen at last year's levels. Ms. Hanes emphasized that, in spite of reduced appropriations, OJJDP will continue to "find new and interesting ways to do business." In particular, she cited partnerships with the private sector and with other federal agencies to leverage resources.

Later that day, FACJJ subcommittees that focus on disproportionate minority contact (DMC), school discipline, and evidence-based practices met in closed sessions and then reported on the progress of their organizational efforts to the full committee. In addition, Haley Reimbold, co-chair of the youth subcommittee, discussed activities proposed toward the group's goal of ensuring that youth are fully engaged as a matter of practice at local, state, and federal levels, including an effort to collect and document firsthand accounts from youth about their experiences in the justice system.

On October 19, FACJJ members heard from national experts on juvenile justice system reform. In a presentation on reform trends in juvenile justice, Bart Lubow, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, observed that the youth incarceration rate in the United States is the highest among advanced nations. At the same time, he said, "our juvenile justice system's reliance on detention and incarceration is not getting positive youth development outcomes and positive public safety outcomes." Youth who are held in detention are more than three times as likely to subsequently be found guilty and incarcerated as similar peers. After release, incarcerated youth are more likely to drop out of school and use drugs and alcohol.

Mr. Lubow cited the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), launched in 1992, as one successful strategy to reduce the juvenile justice system's reliance on confinement. As of 2011, JDAI sites had reduced detention populations by 41 percent and commitments to state facilities by 38 percent. These declines have come without sacrificing public safety: JDAI sites report reductions in juvenile intake cases, juvenile arrests, delinquency petitions, and felony petitions.

Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, offered a brief historical overview of federal policy trends in juvenile justice reform, citing the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act of 1974 as the force behind a "sea change" in the way states and communities deal with troubled youth.

She explained that the 1980s and 1990s saw a further expansion of the federal government's role in juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. Congress created new requirements and authorizations to promote juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, including the requirement to reduce DMC within the juvenile justice system, the valid court order exception, and the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants program. The reauthorization of the JJDP Act in 2002 expanded the scope of the DMC requirement and the purposes of Title II and Title V programs.

Ms. Gannon Hornberger said that the nation's outlook on juvenile justice tends to swing back and forth between punitive and rehabilitative approaches to juvenile delinquency, depending on the perspectives of leaders in the White House, Congress, OJJDP, and the states. "The outlook swings between 'adult time for adult crime' versus recognizing the developmental and other differences between youth and adults; between criminalizing adolescent behavior versus providing service, supports, and interventions; and between institutional versus family- and community-connected care," she said.

Speaking via videoconference from Colorado, Sarah Brown, senior researcher, National Conference of State Legislatures, described trends in juvenile justice state legislation over the last decade, including an increased emphasis on distinguishing juvenile offenders from adult offenders; ensuring due process; treating the mental health needs of juvenile offenders; addressing DMC; and improving reentry/aftercare.

Ms. Brown also cited U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past decade that have addressed the sentencing of juvenile offenders: the abolishment of the death penalty for offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed (Roper v. Simmons, 2005); the prohibition of sentencing of juveniles to life without parole for nonhomicide crimes (Graham v. Florida, 2010); and the prohibition of sentencing approaches that mandate life without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide (Miller v. Alabama, 2012).

FACJJ's meetings are open to the public; anyone may register to attend and observe. Additional information is available on the committee's Web site.

The Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice is a consultative body established by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, as amended (Section 223), and is supported by OJJDP. Composed of members of state advisory groups on juvenile justice, the committee advises the President and Congress on matters related to juvenile justice, evaluates the progress and accomplishments of juvenile justice activities and projects, and advises the OJJDP Administrator on the work of OJJDP.