JJ Today

Weekly Notes-Nov. 21

November 21, 2008 by John Kelly

***The National Council in Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) released this report, which analyzes the federal gang bills introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). The report is relatively quick read, but here is the Cliff's Notes version of NCCD's take on the bills: duplicative, no evidence of a rising tide of gang violence, defines "gang" too broadly, too much punishment and not enough prevention. A much better alternative, the report says: Rep. Bobby Scott's Youth PROMISE Act.

***Meanwhile, in NCCD's home state of California, President Barry Krisberg says he thinks the counties are doing a good job adjusting to the new JJ world order, in which they must handle all but the most violent juvenile offenders at the county level. In exchange for doing that, counties get more state funds.

      But headlines in the state indicate otherwise. Last week's notes mentioned a juvenile hall that might not get built because of financial constraints. Now, this story in the California Aggie says one county's probation department is going to lose about 40 percent of its JJ budget because of state budget cuts. The cuts will be to programs that served as alternatives to the juvenile hall.

       Both situations point to the same thing: Counties were given a bigger responsibility a year before financial downturns forced drastic cuts in state money to counties. Can they handle more juveniles as funds to work with them dry up? Krisberg and others point out that counties couldn't possibly do a worse job than the dysfunctional state-run training schools.

***The other state making a massive state-to-county transition is Texas, where a commission recently recommended merging the agency that runs state juvenile prisons (the Texas Youth Commission) with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. JJ Today wouldn't pretend to know the deal on this better then Grits for Breakfast, so his breakdowns on the proposed mergers are here, here and here.

***Another interesting Texas story comes from the Houston Chronicle, where Harris County's juvenile detention population has dwindled, thanks largely to a decline in juvenile arrests (with plenty of help from the folks at Annie E. Casey's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative). As the population has gone down, the length of stay for youth who are detained has gone up.

The instinctive leap might be to think that centers who decreased population would decrease the length of stay, simply because most people would agree both of those are essentially good things: Not entering at all, not staying long if you do.

Not the case. We had a chance to look at data from lots of JDAI sites for our story on the initiative in the November Youth Today. Plenty of sites that lowered average daily population saw the average length of stay for juveniles rise.

One possible reason: If you're making the conscious decision to only detain serious cases, then those youths might have to be there for awhile. The lesser offenders, who might have brought down the average length of stay, are no longer in the center. 

Another possible cause we've heard is that, as detained populations decrease, some facilities use the available space for committed youths, who obviously are going to be there for awhile. If all the youths get counted as one big population, that will drive up length of stay.

In Harris County, the Chronicle reports, the reduction in population has a lot to do with the center reintroducing some treatment programs that were nixed as the center grew increasingly overcrowded.

***Girls are less violent than they were a decade ago, according to research funded by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and conducted by the Girls Study Group at RTI International. The findings are presented in this PDF, and present data showing a decline in female arrests for violent crimes (except simple assault), even while girls accounted for a larger percentage of all juvenile arrests. Two items explain why that would happen:

* Criminalization and "charging up" of less serious or minor forms of  "violence," a net-widening that will escalate female arrests since their violent offending is generally less serious and less chronic.

* Re-labeling of minor offenses for "girl's protection," i.e., as grounds fordetention or placement in an appropriate program or facility.

***There's a new job opening at the Somerville, Mass.-based YouthBuild USA: Director of Graduate Leadership. The job is basically to cultivate a strong alumni based of YouthBuild graduates who would lead and serve future community activities. Act now, because the deadline to submit applications is allegedly Monday (although they just sent this to us a day ago).

 

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