One Way to Save Coalition for Juvenile Justice: Put It Back in Charge of Federal Advisory Body

As we covered last week, the D.C.-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) is hanging on by a financial thread. The organization – which represents and liaisons between the state advisory groups (SAG) created by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act – has pared down to a shell, employing just a few part-time consultants.

CJJ’s downfall follows the loss of its most significant funding source, the Models for Change initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. But in Youth Services Insider‘s opinion, it’s the organization’s previous benefactor that should step in and keep it going.

That would be the federal government.

Before MacArthur was the coalition’s primary funder, it was an annual grantee of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). CJJ was funded to convene leaders of the state advisory group, and help produce an annual report to the president and Congress on the issues.

In 2004, Bush-era OJJDP Administrator Bob Flores decided to scuttle that arrangement. In its place came the Federal Advisory Commission on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ), a group that would be overseen directly by OJJDP as it developed advice for…OJJDP.

FACJJ began as essentially a carbon copy of the old format; delegates from all states were involved. But from the start, it was clear that FACJJ members were going to be censored. Please read the dispatch from the first FACJJ convening written by YSI‘s old boss, Youth Today founder Bill Treanor, about the commission’s first meeting in Point Clear, Alabama.

In 2005, shortly after the FACJJ was first convened, its second annual report recommended the establishment of an executive committee of FACJJ that could respond on short notice to issues that came up, as opposed to the regular duty of annual reports.

OJJDP dismissed the notion, responding that:

As no decisions would be taken except by consultation by the full FACJJ body, establishing an Executive Committee adds unnecessarily to the operating structure of the FACJJ, may potentially limit access by all members to the Federal government and may contravene the equal footing that each member has.

In 2011, the Obama administration solved that problem by regionalizing FACJJ membership. Now, instead of 56 members, there are 13 (with designated alternates) that represent various clusters of states. The reason was exactly the one suggested by the 2005 FACJJ: for a more nimble response to pressing issues.

YSI has no clue how often FACJJ advises OJJDP throughout the year. The annual reports are way shorter than they used to be; the 2005 report was 45 pages long, the 2015 annual report was five pages long. Points for brevity, but we suspect it also covered fewer subjects.

What we know for sure is that in any structure and with whatever it produces, the FACJJ will always be viewed from outside as a controllable entity unless it has some separation from the body it advises. Some observers suggested to YSI that current Administrator Bob Listenbee does encourage open dialogue, but that the Office of Justice Programs’ general counsel office wields influence on what ultimately gets publicly disseminated by FACJJ.

Putting management of the FACJJ out of the reach of lawyers is the type of thing that is easiest to do for a lame duck administration that won’t ever actually have to deal with the potential candor.

CJJ has the institutional experience in managing the process. And keeping the organization going allows the SAGs to maintain their only real mechanism for support, training and communication.

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