Today, I ventured to Kansas City, Missouri for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) Inter-Site Conference to update attendees on the status of federal investment in juvenile justice. The JDAI is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation which shares our fundamental belief that all children, including those who become involved with the juvenile justice system, should have opportunities to develop into healthy, productive adults. This initiative supports policy, program, and practice changes to reduce reliance on secure confinement, improve public safety, reduce racial disparities and bias, save taxpayers’ dollars, and stimulate broader juvenile justice reforms.

The annual inter-site conference brings together representatives from the 120 JDAI sites across 25 states and the District of Columbia working to improve outcomes for system-involved youth. The meeting provides an opportunity for cross-site collaboration and offers numerous workshops, discussions, and stakeholder-specific sessions. This year, more than 500 representatives participated in the three-day event which featured a keynote speech by Michelle Alexander, author of the provocative new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

At a workshop this morning, I presented an update on policy developments at the federal level with a number of our national partners. As co-chair of the Appropriations Working Group of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, I had the opportunity to discuss the importance of strengthening juvenile justice funding as well as First Focus’s broader work on children in the federal budget. I explained that while the Presidents’ budget blueprint included notable new investments in children’s programs, it proposed significant cuts to core juvenile justice programs. If enacted, the President’s budget would cut critical funds that support work at the state and local levels. While federal investments in juvenile justice are small compared to state and local contributions, they are critical for spurring innovation and leveraging new reforms. The forum provided an opportunity to discuss hypotheses about why there continues to be decreasing investment in juvenile justice programs and generate ideas about ways in which attendees and others on the ground could partner with us to increase federal support.

Other panelists included:

  • Tara Andrews, Deputy Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice
  • Melodee Hanes, Counselor to the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
  • Liz Ryan, Executive Director of the Campaign for Youth Justice

While Tara moderated and presented an update on effective approaches to preventing gang involvement and youth violence, Melodee presented an overview of the OJJDP plan and priorities, and Liz discussed legislative progress in juvenile justice reform. The panel provided a great opportunity for all of us to expand our networks and engage new partners in advocacy work at the federal level.

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