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Mobilizing leadership in juvenile justice.

Juvenile justice, specifically juvenile corrections, has had a roller coaster ride of highs and lows the last 35 years. As we approach the year 2000, the question remains: Will the juvenile justice system be riding high or heading down at breakneck speed?

Part of the answer depends on the ability of leaders in the juvenile justice and juvenile corrections fields to mobilize themselves as an effective force to leverage social policy in the right direction.

Since the 1960s, the juvenile justice system has had social policy set for it. In the late '60s, the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act was created as a part of the President's Omnibus Crime Bill. Through the President's Commission and congressional mandates, certain parameters for juvenile justice social policies were established. Prevention programs were funded and encouraged by the federal government to "minimize the penetration" of juveniles into the justice system. Hundreds of youth service bureaus were established in cities across the country, and many courts went about creating diversion programs--all with the support and nurturing of the federal government.

In the 1970s, the federal government continued to drive social policy. The Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 further influenced the policy of exploring alternatives to institutionalization. Thousands of diversion programs were established. However, by the mid-1980s, youth service bureaus, prevention programs and related projects had dried up and disappeared because of the lack of federal funding.

In the '90s, juvenile justice faces even more complex issues. In addition to the longstanding debates over deinstitutionalization, increased community-based programming, the continued need for diversion programs, and the age-old issue of developing programs that actually combat juvenile crime, we now are faced with the growing problems of minority overrepresentation, increased juvenile violence, conditions of confinement and minimum performance-based standards. So far in the '90s, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is single-handedly leading the effort to respond to these issues.

As we look toward the next century, how is the juvenile justice system going to secure funding and support for an infrastructure of delinquency prevention, intervention and treatment services?

To an extent, the juvenile justice system is organized. Over the last couple of decades, through organizations such as the National Council of Family and Juvenile Court Judges, it has mobilized. However, it now is imperative that groups such as the National Association of Juvenile Correctional Agencies, National Juvenile Detention Association, Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators and ACA mobilize collectively to influence social policy at the highest level of juvenile corrections. It is time to harness the professional experience and wisdom of these groups to leverage the direction of juvenile corrections. These groups must reach consensus on the issues, such as minority overrepresentation, conditions of confinement and performance-based standards, that will frame public policy in juvenile corrections.

The collective presence of these groups at congressional hearings and at meetings with key committee members in Washington, D.C., will need to be a part of doing business in the year 2000.

It is time to lead, not be led. Collectively, these groups must challenge congressional leaders to face up to the reality that supporting the creation and funding of a broad-based infrastructure of diversion, prevention, community-based sanctions and programs, and appropriate secure and non-secure correctional services can combat the increasing rate of juvenile crime.

Geno Natalucci-Persichetti is the director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Natalucci-Persichetti, Geno
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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