What the President's Budget Does for Juvenile Justice

By Zach Schalk
February 18, 2011 12:10 PM


This past Monday, President Obama released his proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins October 1.  While the budget still has several months of Congressional debate ahead before becoming law—and keep in mind that no budget for 2011 has been adopted yet; the government is currently operating on a “continuing resolution” keeping government funding at 2010 levels until March 4—it introduces many interesting proposals that would affect our nation’s juvenile justice system.

(For a more comprehensive list of how the President’s budget would affect youths in all walks of life, check out this post from Youth Today)

For years, the federal government has provided states with Title II Formula Grants, which reward states for compliance with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), a set of federal standards for juvenile corrections policy.  The 2010 budget allocated $75 million for these grants, though there are several states that often fail to meet JJDPA requirements.

The President’s 2012 budget radically alters this process.  Building off his successful “Race to the Top” education funding initiative, in which states competed for a multi-billion dollar pot of federal money by proposing changes to their education system, the President proposed $120 million for “Juvenile Justice System Incentive Grants.”  The idea is to leverage this relatively modest pot of federal funds into having a larger affect on juvenile corrections reform by making states compete for the money.  If the program is carried out like “Race to the Top,” only the most innovative proposals among states complying with JJDPA standards will receive funds, and even the states that don’t receive funds will benefit from the reforms made in the effort of competing for the money.

The program would encourage states to make changes in their juvenile justice systems along the lines that have been discussed many times on this blog:

engagement in community-based juvenile strategic planning, implementation of evidence-based strategies and practices, employment of diversion strategies, and reduction of disproportionate minority contact.

While this new grant program seems like a very positive step in federal juvenile corrections policy, it is not without its detractors.  Some critics say that it might discourage states with little chance of winning the money, due to chronic failure to meet JJDPA requirements, from making reforms.  And budget slashing House Republicans have already put forward proposals that would cut a hefty amount of money from our nation’s criminal justice budget.  But if the Obama administration can play the politics right, real positive steps can be made in juvenile justice policy at the state level.  This budget proposal is far from a done deal, but it lays the groundwork for important reforms in the future.

Posted on February 18, 2011 and filed under In The News.