Home News Center Federal Juvenile Justice Update - November 2018

Federal Juvenile Justice Update - November 2018

November 14, 2018
Melissa Goemann

Midterm Election

While we are still assessing the impact for justice policy from our recent midterm elections, we were excited to see the increased diversity of representatives across the country that were elected to national and state offices, including many overdue national firsts — such as the election of the first Muslim and Native American congresswomen and the first openly gay male governor (Colorado).  There were also many overdue state firsts — such as election of the first black congresswomen in Massachusetts and Connecticut; election of the first Latina congresswomen in Texas; election of the first women senators in Tennessee and Arizona; and election of the first female governors in Maine and South Dakota. We are hopeful that these diverse leaders will help further anti-racist justice reforms that benefit all of our communities. We will update you when the changes to the U.S. House leadership and committee composition are determined.


United States Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Taking Actions That Are Harmful to Youth

The Office of the United States Attorney General and OJJDP took numerous actions this year that are harmful to youth and communities. Most recently, they shrank OJJDP, which will lessen its power to help youth and communities. Additionally, they rescinded guidance and changed official language, which will hurt particularly vulnerable populations, such as youth of color, girls, and LGBTQ youth. Statements by OJJDP Administrator Caren Harp about the disparities of youth of color in the youth justice system are also deeply troubling. During her presentation at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s annual conference in June, she implied that efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities could be detrimental to public safety. In a March article in JJIE, she stated that the youth justice system had “drifted a bit to a focus on avoiding arrests at all costs.”

We strongly reject this false and damaging narrative. Structural racism continues to drive racial and ethnic disparities in the system, and only by eliminating these disparities can we help youth avoid unnecessary exposure to the negative consequences of justice system involvement – from physical and sexual abuse to the many collateral consequences, including severe harm to educational attainment and job prospects.

Below is a summary of some of the most concerning actions of the U.S. Attorney General and OJJDP to date:

1)      Rescinded juvenile justice guidance

Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded 24 guidance documents on July 3, 2018. The list includes seven Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) related documents. Most alarming were the removal of the OJJDP Guidance Manual: Audit of Compliance Monitoring Systems and the OJJDP Disproportionate Minority Contact Technical Assistance Manual. These documents were written to help state and local authorities comply with the JJDPA and improve their strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. The guidance was removed without providing any new guidelines, leaving states directionless.

2)      Loosened compliance standards for reducing racial and ethnic disparities

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) requires states to address and reduce the disproportionate number of youth of color who come into contact with the youth justice system – this has become known as the “disproportionate minority contact (DMC) core protection.” Regulations require data collection, assessment of the problem, and an intervention plan for action. Guidelines and a methodology for data collection were provided in OJJDP’s Disproportionate Minority Confinement (DMC) Technical Assistance Manual, which Attorney General Sessions rescinded. In OJJDP’s Title II grant solicitation for Fiscal Year 2019, they shrank and altered the amount and type of data and information that they are requiring states to provide them, which could have the effect of weakening state work on reducing disparities.

OJJDP made the following changes to state DMC compliance requirements:

  • Reduced the number of data collection points from 9 to 5.
  • No longer is requiring use of the Relative Rate Index (RRI) in reporting the data, which was used specifically to help gauge disproportionality.
  • Rescinded the DMC Technical Assistance Manual which provided detailed guidance on data collection and assessment.
  • No longer is requiring states to do a thorough assessment of their DMC issues and a timeline for reducing DMC, as the regulations require. Instead, OJJDP has directed states to determine their own goals and define what success would look like without accountability to OJJDP for any reductions.
  • Placed emphasis on protecting the public while working to reduce DMC – making a false assumption that reducing DMC can lead to harm to the public.

3)      Removed the research arm from OJJDP

The Department of Justice transferred OJJDP’s research arm to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on September 30, 2018. Jeffrey Butts, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center, warns that this could result in a significantly weaker juvenile justice research program.

4)      Closed the Juvenile Justice System Improvement division

The Innovation and Research Division had been responsible for administering OJJDP’s research, training and technical assistance, and communications activities. This division used the research that OJJDP produced to develop specialized training and technical assistance to the field to promote best practices and system improvement.          

5)      Changed their vision and mission statement

OJJDP edited their “Vision Statement,” which previously read as follows:

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) envisions a nation where our children are healthy, educated, and free from violence. If they come into contact with the juvenile justice system, the contact should be rare, fair, and beneficial to them.

In the current version, they have removed the phase “healthy and educated” from the first sentence and changed “rare, fair” in the second sentence to “just.”

OJJDP also edited their “Mission Statement,” which previously read:

OJJDP provides national leadership, coordination, and resources to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization. OJJDP supports states and communities in their efforts to develop and implement effective and coordinated prevention and intervention programs and to improve the juvenile justice system so that it protects public safety, holds justice-involved youth appropriately accountable, and provides treatment and rehabilitative services tailored to the needs of juveniles and their families.

In the current version,  OJJDP edited the second sentence to make an improvement by adding in “tribes” to “states and communities.” However, they then made troubling changes by removing language which stated that they support states in developing and implementing “coordinated prevention and intervention programs” as well as making other edits to the second sentence so that it reads as follows:

OJJDP supports the efforts of states, tribes, and communities to develop and implement effective and equitable juvenile justice systems that enhance public safety, ensure youth are held appropriately accountable to both crime victims and communities, and empower youth to live productive, law-abiding lives.

6)      Other changed language

In other troubling language changes, OJJDP replaced the term ‘justice-involved youth,” from their previous “About OJJDP” page, to the more stigmatizing term, “offenders” in their current version. They also changed the language in their banner on OJJDP’s webpage from “Working for Youth Justice and Safety” to “Enhancing safety. Ensuring accountability. Empowering youth.”

7)      Removed all Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ) members The FACJJ acts as an advisory committee to the President, Congress, and the OJJDP Administrator on issues impacting juvenile justice and delinquency prevention throughout the nation. It’s comprised of 28 members from the State Advisory Groups (SAGs) across the country that serve two-year terms which can be extended once. They had been previously used an overlapping term structure to continue committee work more effectively as members change. However, when Caren Harp was appointed OJJDP Administrator, OJJDP staff ceased all communication with FACJJ members and on Aug. 29, 2018, all FACJJ members were told that their terms had expired and would not be renewed. OJJDP even went so far as to replace the staff member who had been working with the FACJJ.

8)      Concerning grant language

Recent OJJDP grant solicitations have been concerning for a number of reasons – solicitations for mentoring grants have stripped references to LGBTQ youth and grants for working on gang issues are focused on suppression over prevention and intervention and are giving a preference to applicants willing to collaborate with federal immigration authorities.

9)      Removed materials from the website without notice

OJJDP has removed a number of materials and guidance from their webpage, some of which are still active programs. Removed material includes the following:

  • “Engaging Families and Youth in the Juvenile Justice System” page, which contained policy guidance on this issue and stated that OJJDP “supports reforms that build upon the strengths, values, and diversity of families and communities because they will best serve the interests of children and youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.”

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)

Both the House and Senate passed JJDPA reauthorization bills last year with overwhelming bipartisan support (S. 860 and H.R. 1809).  The current controversy holding up passage involves whether the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) stays in the JJDPA bill or not. The House has passed one version with RHYA in it (HR 1809) and one version without it (HR 6964). Advocates with the National Network for Youth believe it is very important to remove RHYA from the JJDPA to clear a path for Congress to pass a stand-alone bill which would include important programmatic changes. The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act was introduced in the Senate and House in March of 2018. In the Senate, Sen. Lee (R-UT) is committed to keeping the RHYA in the JJDPA and Sen. Leahy (D-VT) is committed to removing it.

Federal Youth Justice Funding

Trump previously signed a spending package for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 that financed the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations (which includes funding for the JJDPA) at FY 2018 levels by using a Continuing Resolution (CR). However, this CR was a short-term fix that only goes through December 7th. Prior to the CR, when the Senate took up the full CJS appropriations bill they provided funds for the JJDPA with a slight increase from the FY 2018 levels. However, the House zeroed out all funding for the JJDPA in their CJS bill. Look for a sign-on appropriations letter soon, which the Act4JJ coalition will be sending out, to ensure that youth justice is fully funded.

SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act Becomes Law

On October 24th the President signed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) into law. The main intent of the bill is to fight the growing opioid epidemic. The bill included a provision which is very helpful to incarcerated youth – the Youth Medicaid Protection Act. It requires states to suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid for youth (up to age 21) who are incarcerated so that they can get access to Medicaid upon release if they are still eligible.

National Sign-on Letters

Youth involved with the justice system often intersect with many other systems serving marginalized populations – such as child welfare, immigration, public health, and housing. To best serve our youth, NJJN signs onto a number of national letters on these issues throughout the year. Please see below for a list of the national letters that NJJN has signed since our last newsletter earlier in the summer and see the federal policy page of our website for a complete list:

11/2/18 – Organizational sign-on letter calling on Democratic leadership in the House and Senate to pass a clean continuing resolution for the Dept. of Homeland Security which does not provide funds for a border wall or extra enforcement funds for ICE and CBP.

10/10/18 – Organizational sign-on letter to appropriators requesting final FY19 funding for innocence and forensic science programs within the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bill.

10/10/18 – Organizational sign-on letter to the National Park Service opposing protest fees for demonstrations on the National Mall. Organized by The Wilderness Society.


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