Federal funding for state and local juvenile justice programs seems likely to take another big hit as Congress continues to slash federal “discretionary” spending.
The Republican-controlled House committee that appropriates money for the Justice Department today issued its proposal for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. It would cut juvenile justice funding to $209 million–a figure that stood at $424 million in fiscal year 2010.
Federal aid for juvenile justice already had fallen more than 50 percent to its lowest level in more than a decade, says the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which represents state advisory committees in Washington, D.C. The coalition is asking Congress for $80 million for “formula grants” that helps states comply with mandates in a key 1974 juvenile crime law, such as separating juvenile and adult defendants in jail and keeping minor offenders out of custody.
House appropriators, rather than adding funds for those purposes, would cut them to $33 million.
Continuing such cuts may raise questions about whether states will continue to abide by the federal requirements, with relatively little money at stake, as some states have done regarding the federal sex offender registration law.
The Coalition for Juvenile Justice had sought $65 million for a longstanding federal “Title V Delinquency Prevention Program,” but the House subcommittee voted to provide only $20 million.
The panel also proposed to eliminate “Juvenile Accountability Block Grants” that the coalition wanted $30 million for, saying they are “used by states and localities to provide judges and other juvenile justice officials with a range of age/developmentally appropriate options to both hold youth accountable and get them back on track so they are less likely to re-offend.”
The Obama administration asked Congress for $140 million for the three programs overall; the House panel would cut them to $53 million total.
Senate appropriators, led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), will be more supportive.
A press release from her appropriations subcommittee this week said the panel would support a total of $278 million for juvenile justice. The final number is likely to be somewhere in between the House and Senate figures, but that would represent a cut from the $263 million that juvenile justice programs are getting now.
The pending Congressional action represents something of retreat by Washington on the juvenile justice issue.
With reported juvenile crime down and legislators facing demands to pare federal spending across a wide range of areas, juvenile justice seemed like a likely target. It does not enjoy support comparable, for example, to federal programs on sex offenders and analysis of DNA evidence.
Even the COPS hiring program, never favored by House Republicans, got $40 million in the new budget proposal.
The Senate is likely to increase the total, but the plan indicates that at least some Republicans are willing to support a program that is identified with former President Bill Clinton, who created it in 1994.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists, and Washington-based Contributing Editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.