Caren Harp Sworn In As Head of Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Former Arkansas prosecutor Caren Harp, President Trump’s pick to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), was sworn in on Friday and has taken over for Acting Administrator Eileen Garry, who has returned to her role as a deputy at the agency.

OJJDP is the division of the Justice Department that oversees federal funding and standards related to juvenile justice. This includes a juvenile mentoring account, along with programs to support victims of child abuse and efforts to find missing and exploited children.

But its central mission is to manage the federal-state partnership on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which was passed in 1974.

States receive a formula grant in exchange for complying with the four core requirements of the act, which are:

  • Not locking up youth for committing status offenses, crimes like truancy that would not be a crime for an adult.
  • Removal of juvenile offenders from adult jails and prisons, with very limited exceptions.
  • In those very limited exceptions, sight and sound separation of juveniles from adults in facilities.
  • Making efforts to research, identify and address disproportional minority contact in the juvenile justice system.

A state stands to lose 20 percent of its formula grant for each requirement with which it fails to comply.

The appropriation for Title II Formula Grants, the primary JJDPA funding stream, declined from $75 million in 2010 to $40 million in 2012. It rose to $55 million in 2015, where it has stayed, but a longtime complementary funding stream called the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant ($55 million in 2010) has been zeroed for the past two years.

In his 2018 budget proposal, Trump requested $53 million for the formula grant. He proposed steeper cuts to the mentoring and missing/exploited children’s account.

Alan Hanson, acting head of the Office of Justice Programs, welcomes new OJJDP Administrator Caren Harp after her swearing-in ceremony.

Meanwhile, the JJDPA is now more than a decade overdue for reauthorization. For the first time since 2002, both chambers of Congress have passed a JJDPA bill.

But that process is being blocked by one man that, as an Arkansan, Harp is no doubt familiar with: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Cotton refuses to budge in his opposition to a major provision included in the House version of reauthorization, which would phase out an exception to the core requirement on status offenders.

The valid court order exception, commonly referred to as the VCO, currently permits judges to incarcerate a youth for a status offense if the offense defies an official court order. In other words: a youth can’t be detained for truancy, but he can be detained for defying a court order to not be truant.

A conference committee is required to settle the differences in the two JJDPA bills, but Cotton has placed a hold on that moving forward.

Harp has been an associate professor at Virginia’s Liberty University Law School since 2012. Her legal career began in the prosecutor’s office for Benton County, Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart. She then spent eight years as the chief deputy prosecutor for Union County before joining the American Prosecutor Research Institute (APRI), where, as senior attorney, she led the National Juvenile Justice Prosecutor Center from 1998 to 2004.

Harp has also worked in the sex crimes unit of the New York Department of Law (2007 to 2009) and served on the Arkansas Public Defender Commission (2009 to 2011).

She is the second OJJDP administrator to be appointed without Senate confirmation; the confirmation requirement for OJJDP was stripped in legislation signed by President Obama. Bob Listenbee, Obama’s only appointee for the OJJDP job, served in the role from 2013 until 2016.

Harp will report for the time being to Alan Hanson, who is the acting head of the Office of Justice Programs. Hanson, who was a key staffer for Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his Senate days, has run the office since the inauguration. President Trump has not put forth a nominee for the job.

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