Appointment of permanent OJJDP director signals a positive step
The White House recently announced the appointment of Robert Listenbee Jr. as permanent director to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). OJJDP has not had a permanent director since 2009, with appointments regularly held up by political maneuvering in the U.S. Senate. A recent rule change, resulting from the limited filibuster reform in the Senate last month, means that the President’s appointee could no longer be blocked by political gamesmanship.
Mr. Listenbee will bring a lifetime of experience in juvenile justice reforms and a commitment to limiting the use of incarceration for youth offenders. He previously served as head of the Juvenile Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia and serves as a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. Most recently, he served as a co-chair of the Department of Justice’ Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence , which recently released a report of its findings. Among other findings, the report provided a national data analysis showing that two out of three children in the United States are exposed to violence in childhood, to varying degrees of severity. The report also details the extent to which the experience of trauma, from childhood exposure to violence or other forms of abuse, is the main driving factor of delinquent behaviors that result in youth contact with the justice system.
Having a federal administrator who is keenly aware of the role that trauma plays in the lives of justice-involved youth could have major ramifications for how justice systems nationwide treat the root causes of delinquency, rather than just punishing the behavior. During the December 12th press conference of the taskforce’s findings, Mr. Listenbee called for trauma-informed screening to become standard practice at juvenile facilities nationwide.
CJCJ strongly endorses Mr. Listenbee and the task force’s recommendations for justice systems to adopt a system-wide trauma-informed lens as they seek to supervise and facilitate the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. Since 1985, CJCJ’s Sentencing Service Program has provided justice stakeholders with an in-depth study of each youth’s social history; often revealing abuse, neglect, and/or exposure to violence. Social histories paint a more complete picture of the complex factors, including exposure to trauma, that may have led to a youth committing a delinquent act. This helps judges determine appropriate dispositional options that address rehabilitative needs more effectively.
CJCJ is also participating in a statewide effort to improve the capacity of local probation systems for serving high-need youth offenders who are also involved in the child welfare system. A key component in this Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI), sponsored by the Sierra Health Foundation and several other California foundations, is training six local probation departments in how to adopt a system-wide trauma-informed lens .
CJCJ joins the chorus of justice advocates lauding Mr. Listenbee’s appointment by President Obama as a major step forward in advancing best practice approaches to juvenile rehabilitation and local systems change.
Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice
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