Top 10 Youth Justice Reads for Loretta Lynch


It’s that time of year. Preparations are being made for a new cabinet member in the Administration. This time it is for a new Attorney General. The Obama Administration’s nominee, Loretta Lynch, has a tremendous track record in the justice system, but she is still expected to run the gauntlet of tough questioning by Senate Judiciary Committee members at upcoming confirmation hearings this week.

To get ready for the hearings, it is almost certain that a staffer somewhere in the caverns of the Department of Justice is going to be working feverishly to put together a briefing notebook for the nominee.

To help this staffer get a jump start on the briefing notebook, here’s a list of some must-reads for an attorney general who wants to make a difference in juvenile justice.

Well, actually, let’s first be sure the staffer doesn’t forget to create a section in the briefing notebook on juvenile justice.

The staffer or his/her higher ups could be asking why that’s necessary.

For starters, the Judiciary Committee has oversight of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the leadership agency on juvenile justice that is currently located within the Department of Justice.

Further, the Judiciary Committee has oversight over the main federal law on juvenile justice, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The newly minted Chairman of the committee, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, along with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, has just introduced S. 2999 to reauthorize and update the JJDPA. That bill is expected to be reintroduced early in this congressional session, and Chairman Grassley has stated publicly that this is one of his top six priorities.

Also, the Civil Rights Division has responsibilities regarding civil rights of incarcerated children in juvenile detention, juvenile corrections, adult jails and adult prisons.

Given that, it would be a huge oversight if juvenile justice wasn’t in the briefing notebook.

Assuming the staffer gets the green light to include a juvenile justice section—and let's hope our assumption is correct—here are the top ten choices from the field:

U.S. Attorney General’s Task Force Report on Children Exposed to Violence

It is always a good idea to know what your predecessor is leaving you. Attorney General Eric Holder promised to implement all the recommendations when the report, which he commissioned, was released two years ago by a task force he appointed. The key section is chapter 6, the juvenile justice section. Since the recommendations still unfortunately remain largely un-enacted, it might be best to include the whole chapter.

National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Reforming Juvenile Justice

The NAS report documents all the latest research on adolescent development, including what’s working and what doesn’t in juvenile justice. This primer on juvenile justice underscores why a federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is important, and how best to update the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) so that it addresses current pressing issues. It will come in handy as Congress considers the JJDPA reauthorization.

Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JDPA) law and S. 2999

Senators Grassley and Whitehouse just introduced S. 2999 to reauthorize and update the JJDPA. As Senator Grassley takes the helm as Judiciary Committee Chairman, it is expected that this bill will be the starting point in the next congressional session. Nice to know what the chairman has in mind, don’t you think?

State Trends in Reducing the Prosecution of Youth in Adult Criminal Court

A series by the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) shows that states have made strides, on a bipartisan basis, to remove youth from adult courts, jails and prisons. Good to know what’s happening in the field so as AG, you can know what you should be doing to be a catalyst for further reforms. Part 1 (2005-2011), Part 2 (2011-2013) and Part 3 (2013-2014) of the series are all worth examining.

No Place for Kids

This seminal piece by the Annie E. Casey Foundation underscores the devastating impact of youth incarceration and recommends major policy reforms. It is chock full of ideas on how states with the support of Congress and the Administration could advance these recommendations.

Burning Down the House

This superbly written book by Nell Bernstein underscores the sense of urgency on why youth incarceration needs to be reduced even more and why the training school (aka youth prison) model should be abolished.

Sticker Shock

If, after reading the previous two pieces, you aren’t yet convinced why youth incarceration needs to go down even more and the training school / juvenile prison model should be scrapped, this new report by the Justice Policy Institute, provides a refreshing dose of reality on the astronomical costs. The vast majority of states spend over $100,000 a year to lock up a youth. Ouch!

Safely Home

Not sure what as AG you should do instead of locking up so many youth? This thoughtful report by the Youth Advocate Program’s Policy and Advocacy Center provides an invaluable blueprint on what community based programs should be in place for youth.

Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) law

The PREA is a critical law, championed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, passed unanimously by Congress, and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003. Its subsequent regulations are one of the few accomplishments of the Obama Administration. Yet the full law’s implementation is far from certain and the Judiciary Committee has already voted once to gut the enforcement by pulling the teeth out of the penalties that states would face. Better brush up on this one.

National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) recommendations for Congress and the Administration

These two sets of recommendations for the Administration and for Congress represent solid ideas from an extensive and diverse array of stakeholders all over the country. It offers a road map for what both branches of government could do to advance juvenile justice reforms in the states to reduce incarceration, remove youth from adult court, jails and prisons, and to ensure youth access to programs in the community rather than in youth prisons.

It would be an excellent agenda for the new AG to adopt and take on administratively, as well as advance with the Congress.

And that’s just for starters.

Come to think of it, perhaps juvenile justice needs its own notebook.

Liz Ryan is CEO of the Youth First! Initiative. She welcomes comments from readers.

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