The FY 2014 Omnibus spending bill , released by Congress mid- January, included proposed budget cuts for many key initiatives that dramatically reduce delinquency and promote proven, community-based alternatives that keep youth out of detention.
Most notably, Congress' proposal would eliminate the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program, which enables states to develop and implement essential system improvements. That would include the hiring of key staff, the development of alternatives to detention, and the training of juvenile justice professionals in evidence-supported and accountability-based practices.
The loss of JABG funding will directly affect the ability of states and communities to deliver the services that will help youth avoid involvement with the justice system. That's the clear message we have been hearing from members of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ).
That message should be heard in Congress as well.
Ellen Crawford, Director of the Clackamas County Juvenile Department in Oregon, whose office used JABG funds for assessment and evaluation beds for high-risk offenders, tells us, for instance, that the spending cuts will leave only secure detention or long term residential care options available for young people in her state.
“This funding allocation to states is critical to sustain a continuum in public safety interventions” for young people involved with the juvenile justice system, she says.
A similar urgent message come from Montana, where JABG funding has increased the number of probation officers able to engage with youth on an individual level. The additional staff has helped produce a decrease in the number of status offenses; but without this funding, the state will be able to afford just two probation officers to cover five counties in Eastern Montana.
The loss of JABG funding is part of a larger trend that we have seen over the last ten years.
While new funding has been set aside in Congress' proposal for initiatives aimed at school safety, girls in the juvenile justice system, youth violence prevention, and the school to prison pipeline, total funding for juvenile justice programs was cut by almost 10 percent.
Since FY 2002, federal investments in programs that prevent and reduce delinquency have steadily decreased.
And just as troubling, it appears that while the field is moving toward community-based alternatives to detention, federal appropriators are providing tacit acceptance of past practices that are not cost-efficient and have proven to be ineffective for the vast majority of young people who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
This new bill allows up to $10 million of Title II State Formula Grants “to be used for building, expanding, renovating, or operating temporary or permanent juvenile correction, detention or community corrections facilities.”
Building new facilities to imprison our country's youth is out of step with practices that have demonstrated success in the field.
Instead, funding should be used to encourage early intervention and prevention strategies and to deliver services that are age appropriate, gender-responsive, and culturally competent.
A therapeutic foster care coordinator from Georgia tells us that, in her experience, incarceration is far less effective at preventing reoffending than rehabilitation.
She told us: “Youth who are incarcerated sometimes come out with a vast knowledge of how to be better criminals. The use of rehabilitation services for juvenile offenders…offers every community a chance for growth.”
States and local governments across the country have begun to make impressive strides over the last decade in offering that chance for growth, and in improving the juvenile justice system. Leveraging federal support, they have engaged private foundations like the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and developed and implemented approaches that prevent delinquency, increase public safety, and save taxpayers money.
But as federal support diminishes, so too does the leverage states have to launch and participate in bold new initiatives that make efficient use of resources and improve the safety and success of our nation's youth and families.
The time could not be worse for a decrease in federal investment in juvenile justice.
Marie Williams is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. She oversees member relations and development, fundraising and grant management, and CJJ’s initiatives in government relations, leadership development, juvenile justice reform, communications, and training and technical assistance. She welcomes readers comments.