Science Takes a Hit at the Department of Justice

The official shutdown of the Justice Department’s Science Advisory Board was announced in a terse message to members this week. One member says it’s a step backwards from an ambitious attempt to apply scientific and evidence-based thinking to the federal justice structure.

On Wednesday morning, all members (including me) of the Department of Justice’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) for the Office of Justice Programs were notified that the Department is abolishing the SAB.

The news was not unexpected. Since the Obama Administration left town, there had been just one meeting of the SAB.

The next three meetings were never scheduled. With no official word about the Board’s fate, most of the members expected to hear that the SAB’s official charter would be allowed to lapse.

The news came in the form of an official letter from Matt Dammersmith, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

“At this time,” Dammersmith wrote. “[The Office of Justice Programs] OJP has decided to bring closure to the SAB.”

He added: “OJP plans to continue to seek the advice of scientists and practitioners from across to country to provide input into the scientific activities and priorities of the OJP.”

The SAB was formed by the Obama Administration in 2010. Its goal, according to the SAB charter, was to provide advice on science-related issues.

The charter explained the SAB’s mission in the following way:

The Board will provide the office of the Assistant Attorney General (AAG) of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) with valuable advice in the areas of social science and statistics for the purpose of enhancing the overall impact and performance of its programs and activities in the areas of criminal and juvenile justice. The Board will help develop long-range plans, advise on program development, and recommend guidance to assist in OJP’s adherence to the highest levels of scientific rigor as appropriate. The Board will provide an important base of contact with the criminal justice and juvenile justice academic and practitioner communities.

Al Blumstein, Carnegie Mellon University. Founding Chair SAB.

The membership of the Board, including founding Chair Al Blumstein of the Carnegie Mellon University, and his successor Ed Mulvey of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, represented a wide range of academic disciplines. That included social and behavioral sciences, as well as professional disciplines including law enforcement, corrections, treatment specialists, prosecutors, and the defense bar.

The initial members represented a broad selection of some of the country’s most noted criminal justice scholars and practitioners, including former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, Frank Cullen, Mark Lipsey, Tracey Meares, Joan Petersilia, Rick Rosenfeld, Rob Sampson, and David Weisburd.

The most recent membership list maintained that tradition.

During their meetings from 2011 to 2017, the members of the SAB received updates from the leadership of OJP and its bureaus (including the National Institute of Justice, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance) on the Office’s initiatives and funding plans.

The Board members, in turn, would provide or facilitate presentations about pressing issues in policy and practice, and the extent to which available solutions were grounded in science or could be better supported by new evidence.

The members of the SAB, who served without compensation, did not judge or recommend particular OJP policies or programs. The mission was to provide guidance as available from the scientific literature and the newest findings of evaluation research.

At the first meeting, then-Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson told SAB members she hoped the Board could play six key roles in support of OJP.

  • Look at the broad role of science within OJP and how we can better integrate what we learn from science in to our programmatic design and spending;
  • Think about ways, of course, to strengthen the research and statistical functions within OJP;
  • Suggest broad priorities on which research might be focused.
  • Consider and make recommendations about institutional ways to protect the science here going into the future.
  • Think about ways that OJP can more effectively connect researchers with practitioners and policymakers – particularly on translation of evidence – and generally serve as an avenue for outreach to the field and a promoter of a two-way dialogue;
  • And finally, play a helpful role in providing advice and counsel to us on
    practical concerns, like improving the way we handle peer review.

The members of the SAB were very conscious of Robinson’s fourth point, which she described as “critical.” As she pointed out:

We may not enjoy the support for science in future Assistant Attorneys General and Attorneys General that we have today. The Justice Department is a lawyer culture and we know from history that it can be hostile to science. We need to build in protections.

During 2016 the Board devoted considerable effort to preparing advisory notes for the field.

We joked (before we knew the outcome of the 2016 election) that these advisory notes represented our “message in a bottle,” that would be set afloat on the broad ocean of political change, and we hoped they would be of service to future researchers and policymakers.

The statements represented the consensus views of the diverse membership of the Board, were approved by a vote of the Board, and then promulgated on the Justice Department’s website on January 17, 2017.

 

science advisory board

Members of the now-disbanded Science Advisory Board of the Department of Justice

 

Advisory Statement 1 clarified the important but limited role of randomized controlled trials in the development of effective policies and practices, including:

Randomized controlled trials (RCT) generally provide the strongest or most defensible causal evidence for programs and practices, but it may not always be possible to implement successful RCT evaluations in the field. Many important questions in the field of justice are not answerable using RCT studies—either for practical, economic, political, or ethical reasons.

 Research questions that are very difficult or expensive to answer using experimental methods may merit the necessary investment if they have widespread or profound social consequences, just as research questions with only modest consequences still merit experimental investment if they can be answered easily and at little cost. Funding for RCT evaluations should be managed like an investment portfolio with resources concentrated on the most effective combinations of theoretical salience, research feasibility, and social benefit.

Advisory Statement 2 focused on the role of evidence in justice policy and practice, including:

The strength of evidence required to judge the value of programs and practices in the justice field is a question of balance. Judgments should be based on the best available evidence, but the strength of evidence required for any decision is gauged by the costs of error and the burden of increasing evidentiary quality.

 Decisions with little consequence require less accurate evidence and less exhaustive evidence. Highly consequential decisions require more evidence. Navigating the continuum of evidence-supported decision-making is complex and subjective. The available evidence for any policy, program, or practice is not the product of a straightforward and untrammeled search for effectiveness. It emerges from a contentious and inherently political process that governs social investment in research.

Advisory Statement 3 examined the responsibility of policymakers and researchers to both identify and develop effective interventions and strategies, including:

 Justice programs are generally designed to achieve specific purposes, and produce intended effects. The effects of an intervention on the target population, both intended and unintended, are known as outcomes.

 Recidivism is the most common outcome of interest within the justice field, but other measures are used, including satisfaction with services, impacts on drug use, employment, educational success, and the legitimacy of criminal justice agencies across communities. Identifying the correct outcomes for a policy, program or practice is a basic task associated with program development, performance measurement, and program evaluation.

 There are a number of considerations related to outcome measurement that OJP must consider in drawing inferences about the effectiveness of justice programs. These include: primary and secondary outcomes, unintended outcomes, cost/benefit, implementation fidelity, and efficacy versus effectiveness research.

The SAB and its meetings and products were an effective means of infusing scientific thinking inside of the federal justice structure with the hope that all aspects of criminal justice, juvenile justice, and the much larger concerns of social justice would be informed by evidence.

Jeffrey Butts, PhD.,director of John Jay College’s Center for Research and Evaluation

And, just as importantly, that the production of future evidence would be sensitive to a broader range of interests and considerations—not simply mirror the preferences of current office holders.

I miss it already.

Jeffrey Butts, PhD., is director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This essay was originally published in Dr. Butts’ blog. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Assaults by President Won’t Stop Justice Reforms: Former AG Sally Yates

The former acting attorney general, fired by Trump for opposing his Muslim travel ban, says the “norm-busting” culture of the current administration has only stiffened the resolve of career Justice Department officials to follow the law and pursue their jobs conscientiously.

Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general fired by President Trump for opposing his Muslim travel ban, says science-based justice reforms have taken root at the Department of Justice (DOJ) despite the regular barrage of “assaults” from the president on the integrity of her former colleagues.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Yates said career DOJ officials “are trying to keep their heads down and keep doing their (jobs) based on facts and the law,” even as the department has been plunged into new uncertainty following the firing of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“It’s a tough time for folks at the DOJ,” said Yates, noting that DOJ employees have been “essentially assaulted on what feels like a daily basis by the President of the United States, undermining [their work], accusing them of being corrupt.”

She said the administration has perpetrated a “norm-busting” culture through presidential comments, tweets and actions that would once have been considered “presidency-busting, but now just get people to roll their eyes.”

“We’ve come to accept that this is just normal,” she said.

Yates, a 27-year-veteran prosecutor and U.S. Attorney, served as Deputy Attorney General in the Obama administration. She was appointed acting attorney general by Trump on Jan. 20, 2017.

But she was fired for insubordination 10 days later, after ordering DOJ staff not to defend a presidential order temporarily barring citizens from some Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S., on the grounds that it was unconstitutional—a position later upheld by federal courts.

Matthew Whitaker

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Efforts by the White House to undermine what it considers the too-liberal justice establishment at “Main Justice” have continued through the tenure of Sessions and are unlikely to end with the appointment of the controversial Matthew Whitaker to replace him as acting A-G, she said.

“I have felt good that folks at DOJ are resisting” the politicization of the department, said Yates, who is now a partner at her former Atlanta law firm.

Yates was participating with other former DOJ officials at a discussion panel on “criminal justice policy and practice in the current administration.”

Also on the panel were: Joe Whitley, a former Associate Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration; and Nancy La Vigne, now vice president of justice policy at the Urban Institute.

Asked by former assistant attorney general Laurie Robinson, whether the evidence-based reform initiatives begun under previous administrations would survive, Yates said she was optimistic.

“Regardless of the priorities of this administration, the benefits have been seen in progressive and conservative states,” said Yates, citing the gathering movement to loosen harsh sentencing guidelines and develop alternatives to incarceration.

At the federal level, she was concerned that efforts begun under the last administration to modify federal sentencing guidelines, which resulted for instance in a 20 percent reduction in the use of mandatory-minimum penalties and a corresponding decline in federal prison populations “for the first time in decades” had been stalled.

And she said there was a danger that public support for such reforms would decline as a result of the administration’s tough-on-crime rhetoric.

“If it’s framed as ‘American carnage,’ people start believing that stuff,” Yates said.

Nevertheless, she pointed out, “criminal justice reform is one of the few issues on which there is bipartisan agreement.”

She welcomed Trump’s recent endorsement of a modified federal sentencing reform bill, which she called a “modest step but an important step.”

In an ideal scenario, the Justice Department would reinforce efforts to invest more in prisoner education and programs to explore more alternatives to incarceration.

“The good news is that (the changes we’ve seen) are rooted in the states,” she said. “The bad news is (continuing reform efforts) are not getting the research and grant support they were getting before (from the federal government).”

Stephen Handelman is executive editor of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Jersey’s Chris Christie for Attorney General?

President Trump reportedly believes that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has patiently waited his turn after being passed over for Attorney General in 2016.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie has emerged as a strong contender for attorney-general, as President Trump’s search for a replacement for former A-G Jeff Sessions has been complicated by the shadow of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is unlikely to accept the job if it is offered before Mueller issues his report, Politico reports. Two other candidates approached by the White House about the position signaled they were not interested.

Trump has said he believes Christie, the first prominent Republican to back his presidential bid, has patiently waited his turn after being passed over for the job during the post-2016 election transition.

That said, candidates for top administration jobs have learned that Trump’s whims are subject to sudden changes, thanks to anything from a bad-chemistry meeting to a snippet of critical cable TV commentary the president happens to catch.

Bill Palatucci, a longtime Christie adviser and confidant, said Christie did not float any trial balloon to stoke speculation about his nomination and had not received a call from the White House about his potential interest in the post as of Thursday morning, reports NorthJersey.com,

But Palatucci said Trump is “very aware” of Christie’s interest in the job.

“They had a great relationship,” he said. “The president has great confidence in the governor, and if the president wanted to speak to the governor, he’ll pick up a phone and call him himself.”

Palatucci, however, said Christie is not likely to automatically leap at the job if asked, as he is enjoying private life, working in the private sector and being at home with two of his high-school-age children.

“The longer you are out of office, the harder it is to go back,’’ he said. “But Chris has always said, if [Trump] would call, I would listen.”

Other candidates in the mix include Solicitor General Noel Francisco and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. A cabinet post for Christie would be a dramatic plot twist in his complicated, years-long relationship with the Trump family.

Christie ran against Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries before advising and representing his campaign. As a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Christie led a 2004 criminal prosecution that landed Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, behind bars for tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions — and earned him the enmity of Trump’s son-in-law.

Christie was at the White House on Thursday for a long-scheduled meeting on criminal justice reform, an issue both he and Kushner support.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Iowan Dummermuth Heads DOJ Justice Programs Agency

The Trump administration names Matt Dummermuth, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, to head the Justice Department branch that includes six agencies, including the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and National Institute of Justice.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs has a new leader.

The Trump administration named Matt Dummermuth, who was U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa during the George W. Bush administration, to the job.

Dummermuth replaces Alan Hanson, who headed the agency since Donald Trump became president. Hanson left recently for the Department of Transportation. He never was nominated by the White House to serve as Assistant Attorney General, the formal title of the agency’s director.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) includes six agencies well known in criminal justice. They are the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which gives anticrime grants to states and localities; the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART office, which administers federal programs on sex offender sentencing, monitoring, apprehending, registering, and tracking.

Laura Rogers, director of the SMART agency, has served as the acting head of OJP since Hanson’s departure in July, as reported in The Crime Report.

In a memo to OJP staff members, Rogers said Dummermuth as U.S. Attorney “supervised criminal prosecutions of drug trafficking, child exploitation and financial fraud, and orchestrated the nation’s most successful criminal immigration worksite enforcement action. He also created the first human trafficking task force in Iowa, bringing together law enforcement and victim service providers.”

On LinkedIn, Dummermuth said that until recently he was a partner in the law firm of Hagenow Gustoff & Dummermuth, LLP, leading its eastern Iowa office in Cedar Rapids.

He did not mention his criminal justice experience, noting that he handles “government litigation, including constitutional and civil rights issues, as well as investigations and regulatory matters.”

Dummermuth said that as a seventh-generation Iowan “still actively involved with my family’s livestock and crop farm, I have significant interest, background, and experience in agricultural law, handling matters ranging from commercial litigation and regulatory compliance to complex business and estate planning.”

There was no immediate indication whether Dummermuth has any possibility of being nominated to head the agency, which requires Senate confirmation.

That may depend on the future of his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who President Trump has indicated may be fired after the November elections.

One of Dummermuth’s major challenges may be to help determine whether federal anticrime funds will be given to “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration officials. That issue is pending in several federal courts.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Accused of ‘Erasing’ LGBTQ Teens from Crime Survey

The Trump administration is seeking to change Obama-era protocols on questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the National Crime Victimization Survey. Some see a pattern of attempts to remove or minimize LGBTQ issues in federal questionnaires and websites.

The U.S. Department of Justice has submitted a request seeking to revise questions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity on the annual National Crime Victimization Survey, reports NBC News.

For two years, the survey has been asking respondents 16 and older about their sexual orientation and gender identity. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics requested that the minimum age for answering these questions be raised from 16 to 18, citing “concerns about the potential sensitivity of these questions for adolescents,” according to the document with the submitted request.

The survey, administered since 1973, collects information from a nationally representative sample of 135,000 households about victimization of crimes such as rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault. The New York City Anti-Violence Project, which tracks violence against LGBTQ people, criticized the DOJ’s request.  “This survey is one of the main sources of data on crime, and it is vital for informing policy related to all forms of violence in ensuring that victims, even youth, can access support,” said the group’s Emily Waters.

This is not the first time the Trump administration has been accused of erasing LGBTQ people from federal questionnaires. In 2017, advocates were outraged after the Department of Health and Human Services removed questions about LGBTQ seniors from an annual survey that determines services for elderly Americans. Last month, the Sunlight Foundation reported that the same department had quietly removed lesbian and bisexual content from its women’s health website. The Department of Justice declined to comment. The new proposal could be implemented in six months.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Juvenile Justice Unit Faces Big Staff Cuts

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has only 60 employees, but one-fourth of its positions may not be filled after attrition. That would reduce efforts to insure state compliance with a federal law providing juvenile justice aid.

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.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Announces New Policies on Forensic Science

The practices will “advance the Justice Department’s commitment to reliable science that helps us to find and report the truth,” says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced new Department of Justice policies to advance forensic science at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences 70th Annual Scientific Meeting in Seattle, the department says. The new guidance implements quality assurance measures based on science-informed practices, enhances forensic capacity and efficiency, and increases coordination and collaboration between the department and state, local, and federal partners.

“Forensic science, used appropriately, will help us accomplish our mission,” Rosenstein said. “The policies that I am announcing today will advance the Justice Department’s commitment to reliable science that helps us to find and report the truth.”

DOJ released uniform language for testimony and reports for use by its forensic examiners to provide testimonial consistency and quality assurance and department-wide testimony monitoring practices to ensure testimonial consistency and accountability by  forensic examiners.

Rosenstein said that DOJ forensic laboratories that support criminal investigations and prosecutions will begin publicly posting current quality management system documents and summaries of internal validation studies online. DOJ also will “re-charter” its Council of Federal Forensic Laboratory Directors, which will begin meeting again this May.  All executive branch agencies with forensic laboratories and digital analysis entities are invited to join.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police Anti-Terror Training Gets a New Boost

The State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training Program (SLATT) will keep running and be retooled during the Trump administration despite an earlier announcement that it would end on September 30.

A U.S. Department of Justice program to train state and local police officers how to fight terrorism will continue indefinitely, despite an earlier announcement that it would shut down this past September.

The program is called the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training Program, or SLATT, and its declared mission is to provide “critical training and resources to our nation’s law enforcement, who face the challenges presented by the terrorist/violent criminal extremist threat.”

In July, The Crime Report said that the popular program was due to end on September 30. Congress had failed for three years to provide funds for it, but the Obama Justice Department had found money to keep it alive.

The Trump administration didn’t request funding for SLATT, even though President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have been strong supporters of law enforcement and have spoken out forcefully against terrorism.

Now it turns out that the DOJ Bureau of Justice Assistance, which has overseen SLATT since it was launched back in 1996, is determined to keep it operating, with Trump administration backing.

By Washington, D.C., standards, SLATT is a small program, commanding only about $1 million a year. Justice Department officials say they are able to find funds for it in a fairly large pot of money called the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, usually known by its key initials JAG.

Over the years, SLATT has spent more than $45 million training more than 146,700 law enforcement professionals. It also has funded a “Train-the-Trainer Workshop” that has taught about 3,500 law enforcement trainers, who in turn have provided instruction to about 270,000 more law enforcement officers.

The job of running SLATT has been contracted to the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IRR), a Tallahassee, Florida-based firm headed by Rick Gregory, a former police chief in Utah and Delaware.

Because of the funding uncertainties, SLATT will be offered on a curtailed basis during what DOJ is calling the current “bridge year” until it it resumes at full strength next October.

In the past, local police officers have been offered a two-and-one-half day training session covering such topics as terrorism ideologies, dealing with domestic terrorists including “sovereign citizens” and anarchists, international terrorism, and intelligence and information sharing among law enforcement agencies.

For the next few months, SLATT will be taught to local police in a shortened one-day form.

Probably by early next year, the Justice Department will post a notice offering any training provider the chance to bid on the opportunity to run SLATT.

DOJ will seek a revised curriculum that will make more use of FBI training materials than the current course does.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the nation’s largest group of police managers, is enthusiastic about SLATT’s continuation. IACP says that although large police departments like New York City and Los Angeles have the capacity to train their own officers about terrorism, there are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the U.S., most of which have two dozen employees or fewer and cannot provide such specialized training.

If SLATT is so popular and fighting terrorism is such a major federal cause, why is there so little formal support for it in the capital?

The Trump administration has been in office less than a year, and hasn’t gotten around to naming a director for the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and many other federal agencies.

As for Congress, it has managed to keep the federal government going only by means of a “continuing resolution” that expires on December 8.

Money for the Justice Department is combined in a fund that includes the Commerce Department and science agencies like NASA.

The Senate and House committees that deal with those units have about $54 billion to spend this year, meaning that it is easy for a program like SLATT to get lost in the shuffle.

Those interested in following SLATT’s progress in the future can check its website.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report. Comments welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Microsoft Lawsuit Prompts Feds to Limit Data Gag Orders

The Justice Department has agreed to limit its use of a secrecy order frequently used by prosecutors to prevent tech companies from informing their customers when investigators seek access to their emails and other personal data stored in the cloud.

Microsoft says it is dropping a lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department that targeted a tactic commonly used by prosecutors to prevent tech companies from informing their customers when investigators seek access to their emails and other personal data stored in the cloud, reports GeekWire. The move follows the Justice Department’s announcement of a new binding policy that requires prosecutors to “conduct an individualized and meaningful assessment regarding the need for protection from disclosure” prior to seeking a gag order and to “only seek an order when circumstances require.”

The new policy limits what Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, called an “overused practice.” He wrote, “It is an unequivocal win for our customers, and we’re pleased the DOJ has taken these steps to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.” Microsoft originally filed the suit over U.S. gag orders in April 2016 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, asking a federal judge to declare unconstitutional the provision of federal law allowing the practice.

from https://thecrimereport.org

In Feds’ Juvenile Justice Agency, ‘Reform’ is a Four-Letter Word

The Trump-era Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has issued employees a page with a dozen items of “language guidance” — a table listing “language to avoid” and “language options to use instead.” Among the disfavored words and phrases: reform, summit, and underserved youth.

Don’t look for “reform” in the Trump administration’s Justice Department, at least in the language used by its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The agency has issued employees a page with a dozen items of “language guidance” — a table listing “language to avoid” and “language options to use instead” — now that the new administration is overhauling many of the programs and practices of the Obama presidency.

It’s no secret that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anticrime priorities differ from those of his predecessors.

What has not been obvious until now is that at least in one part of the sprawling Department of Justice (DOJ), there has been a broad shift in the way DOJ employees are supposed to talk about what their agency is doing.

Take the word “reform,” an admittedly imprecise term that is widely used in the criminal justice field to discuss modernization of justice practices.

The guidance issued by the Trump administration says the juvenile delinquency agency, which is known by its initials OJJDP, is to avoid “reform (in the context of juvenile justice)” and instead use “improvement (or similar rewording).”

Similarly, the department is not using the term “summit” to describe gatherings to discuss criminal justice issues. Rather, employees are told to refer to “conference, meeting, etc.”

The Trump Justice Department, perhaps not surprisingly, doesn’t want to talk about the “Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative,” which, according to an Obama-era press release, was started in 2014 as part of a “comprehensive review of the criminal justice system to identify and implement reforms to ensure federal laws are enforced fairly and efficiently.”

Instead, employees are told to talking about the program “generally as system improvement work.”

Among other items on the list, employees are told to avoid talking about “underserved youth” and instead should refer to “all youth,” to avoid “substance abuse disorder” and use “substance abuse issue,” and to avoid the phrase “overrepresentation of minorities (in the juvenile justice system” and refer to “disproportionate minority contact.”

The new administration doesn’t want to call crime problems a “public health issue” or “public health concern,” preferring the simpler descriptions “public issue” or “public concern.”

While it is common for a new presidential administration to stop calling attention to initiatives started under the previous presidency, the rationale for all of the Trump administration’s guidance for the juvenile crime agency was not clear.

That is because the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, where OJJDP is located, declined to talk about it. A spokesperson would say only that the guidance was an “internal document.”

The agency gives out many grants to outside organizations, but it was not clear whether the language guidance was provided to all grantees. Some of them have it, which is how The Crime Report obtained it. It also was not obvious whether other units within DOJ were given similar instructions.

Some non-government juvenile justice organizations that have seen the guidance expressed dismay.

For example, one item in the guidance sheet advises staff members to avoid using the terms “system-involved or justice-involved youth,” instead referring to “youth in the system,” “offender” or “at-risk youth.”

Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group in the field, said, “We are concerned about [the language guidance] and the changing direction of the agency.”

Mistrett said the law creating the juvenile justice agency “is clear, as is the department’s mandate to serve all justice-involved youth.” Her group works to end prosecuting youths under 18 in the adult criminal justice system.

Referring to another item in the language list, the avoidance of talking about “overrepresentation of minorities,” Naomi Smoot, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), a non-profit advocacy group, said, “Unfortunately, I don’t believe that we can do this work in any genuine sort of way and ignore the fact that young people of color are over represented at nearly every point of contact with the justice system.”

She added that, “CJJ has been, and will remain committed to, combating disproportionate minority contact within our justice systems.”

Former OJJDP head Robert Listenbee. Photo by David Kindler via Flickr

In the last half of the Obama administration, OJJDP was headed by Robert L. Listenbee, Jr., a former juvenile public defender in Philadelphia who had co-chaired then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.

The Trump administration has not appointed an administrator of the agency. Since Trump took office, it has been headed by Eileen M. Garry, a career employee who joined ODDJP in 1995, and then served between 2001 and 2016 in another DOJ agency, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, before rejoining OJJDP last year.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org