Coalition for Juvenile Justice Pares Down to Bare Bones

Unable to make full payroll after losing its biggest philanthropic supporter, the national organization representing state juvenile justice advisory groups will cut back to a skeleton staff.

Board and executive leadership at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice has not replied to Youth Services Insider‘s requests for comment. But multiple sources close to the organization confirm that the nonprofit will not close, but rely only on a small pool of part-time consultants to remain in operation.

YSI-MB-PageMarie Williams, CJJ’s executive director, has submitted her resignation and will leave the organization by the end of September, one source says. Lisa Pilnik, a senior advisor for the organization, will remain in a consulting role.

The National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), which was once an arm of CJJ, has become an independent organization and is no longer financially tied to the organization.

NJJN “will continue to carry on our existing operations with all of our staff,” said Sarah Bryer, the network’s director. “We’re hopeful that CJJ will be able to build itself back up, as their voice is so crucial to the field.”

CJJ’s financial shortfall hits at a particularly inopportune time, as both Congress and the Obama administration ponder changes to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the signature federal legislation on juvenile justice.

The organization was among the primary advocacy groups pushing a reauthorization of the JJDPA that narrowly missed passing in the Senate last year, blocked by a single hold placed on it by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The bill would, among other things, phase out what is known as the valid court order exception (VCO), a loophole in federal standards on the detention of status offenders.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department issued a proposed set of new regulations that would make state compliance with JJPDA significantly tougher than it is now. Under the proposed new rules, which are open to public comment through October, 48 states would be out of compliance with at least one of the law’s four core standards.

CJJ’s primary function is to represent and serve the state advisory groups (SAGs) established in each of the 49 states that complies with JJPDA (Wyoming does not). SAG members are appointed by the governor’s office, and the SAG is charged with monitoring and supporting fidelity to the JJDPA standards.

Last month, CJJ released a 28-page guide for increasing the effectiveness of state advisory groups.

In better fiscal appropriation times for the law – funds for JJDPA have plummeted since 2010 – SAGs were also given a decent pot of money to distribute for delinquency prevention programs; $94 million in fiscal 2002. But that funding was eaten up by Congressional carve-outs for years, and more recently the appropriation has been whittled down to $17.5 million for 2016.

CJJ was founded in 1984, and it used to receive federal funding to serve as the official liaison and supporter of SAGs to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. OJJDP had historically funded CJJ to convene the SAGs and produce annual reports on juvenile justice to the president and Congress, an action required by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

CJJ’s role in the field shifted in 2003 after George W. Bush-era OJJDP boss J. Robert Flores created the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ) to handle required reporting of the SAGs to Washington. Left without federal appropriations to complement membership dues, the organization turned to the philanthropy world for partners.

It found one in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which in the 2000s launched its Models for Change initiative to spark juvenile justice reforms. The initiative sought to affect big change in a handful of states, and proliferate the lessons learned throughout the country.

CJJ received $500,000 each year to host the Models for Change conference, a grant that surely offset a healthy portion of the organization’s operating costs. And in 2015, the nonprofit received an additional $300,000 over two years to help spread Models for Change lessons among states.

But 2015 was the final year of the MacArthur initiative. Time will tell if 2016 is the final year for CJJ.

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