DOJ Juvenile Justice Unit Faces Big Staff Cuts

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The Trump administration plan to cut thousands of Department of Justice (DOJ) positions may mean a 25 percent or more reduction in the already tiny 60-person federal agency focused on juvenile justice, reports the Chronicle of Social Change.

Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice said the size of the proposed cuts and their potential impact on the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) were “alarming, given the amount of work and content expertise necessary to properly administer the duties of the OJJDP office. ”

She added: “It is also inconsistent with the direction of Congress, [which] has authorized higher levels for the program given its imminent reauthorization.”

The news comes as advocates work feverishly to pass the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), a 44-year-old law that trades federal grants for compliance with basic juvenile justice standards.

And it follows on the heels of other moves by the DOJ to de-emphasize the previous administration’s juvenile justice reform efforts. In October, the department issued employees of the OJJDP with “language guidance” rules suggesting that the word “improvement (or similar rewording)” replace all mentions of “reform.”

Employees were also directed to describe the Obama-era “Smart on Juvenile Justice” initiative, launched in 2014, as “system improvement work”—replacing original language that described the aim of the program as an effort to “identify and implement reforms to ensure federal laws are enforced fairly and efficiently.

The Justice Department aims to make the cuts over the next 18 months through attrition, relying on retirements and early retirement buyouts. If it comes to layoffs, the likely scenario will be a “last in-first out” policy.

The OJJDP oversees funds related to juvenile justice, mentoring and efforts to help missing and exploited children. At the heart of the agency is compliance with the JJDPA, which was passed in 1974 and lays out core standards for juvenile justice practices, such as not locking up youth for committing status offenses, crimes like truancy that would not be a crime for an adult.

One advocate said that staffing cuts would prompt the agency to “greatly loosen enforcement” of JJPDA compliance, especially the law’s requirement that states examine disproportionate minority involvement in the justice system.

In an early appraisal of the Trump administration approach to juvenile justice, Barry Krisberg, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkeley, warned that evidence-based strategies would get “less traction” –placing more of the burden to undertake reform on states.

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