Gone Fishing

After 388 posts in less than 365 days, nearly 40,000 visitors and 191 comments, I have decided to put Juvienation on hiatus until further notice. Please feel free to rummage through the archives, refer to the blogroll and further reading page and use this post as an open thread. I’m keeping the site up because I think it’s a useful resource for those who care about juvenile justice policy, and because I would like the option to start posting again at some point in the future. Until then…


Juvienation on Vacation

I’m off to Italy this afternoon and won’t be posting any updates while I’m traveling. Please feel free to comb through the archives and hit the links on the blogroll while the site is on hiatus. If you’re looking for updates on the OJJDP scandal, the best resource is Youth Today; the good folks at Act4JJ will have up-to-date info on the proposed JJDPA reauthorization bill, which may come up for discussion on the Senate floor in July.


NYT on JJDPA Reauth

An editorial in today’s Times offers strong support for the “comprehensive approach” to juvenile justice reform that informs the Senate’s JJDPA reauthorization bill (background here). “This bill represents an important step toward rational and compassionate justice for troubled children,” the editorial states. But it’s not perfect. As Congress considers reforming the juv justice system, legislators “ought to bar the states from housing children in adult jails, except for the most heinous crimes. Sadly, the updated version of the law…falls short of that goal.”

Registering at Blawg.com

Juvienation is now registered in the blawg.com directory, in the “Family Law” subsection of the “Legal Subjects and Areas” section. Lots of good company in there–check it out.

George Will v. Sentencing Project

Last Sunday George Will, the bowtie-wearing dean of conservative punditry, published an op-ed in the Washington Post called “More Prisons, Less Crime.” In the piece Will gave prominent attention to his colleagues and fellow travelers Heather Macdonald and James Q. Wilson, citing at length their contention that the record-high level of incarceration in the United States has been beneficial. “For many reasons, including better policing and more incarceration, Americans feel, and are, safer,” he wrote. It was a scattered argument without much substance, but what was most disturbing was the mendacious cherry-picking of data to support the ideological thrust of his argument–which rationalizes increased incarceration and totally dismisses the strong taint of racism in current sentencing policy. Now the Sentencing Project has responded with a welcome corrective, “Do More Prisoners Equal Less Crime?” which dismantles Will’s column point by point to advance a more reality-based take on the relationship between incarceration and crime rates, and on the racist underpinnings of the bloated American prison system.

General-Election Obama and the Death Penalty

Why did Barack Obama disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana? “I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes,” Obama said at a news conference yesterday in response to the Justices’ 5-4 decision to ban the death penalty for child rapists. “I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable that that does not violate our Constitution.” The Court could have left room for exceptions in egregious cases, he explained, “but it basically had a blanket prohibition, and I disagree with the decision.”

This from a guy who wrote in his memoir that the death penalty “does little to deter crime,” who as a State Senator helped tighten up Illinois’s approach to capital punishment in an attempt to prevent the state from sending innocent people to die (he served as a legislator under Governor Jim Ryan, who eventually imposed a moratorium when he learned that innocent people in fact were dying), and who opposed a bill that would have permitted the death penalty for gang-related murders.

Obama is no abolitionist; he has long held that the death penalty is appropriate in a small number of extraordinary cases. So, fair enough, he’s staying true to his principles. But surely as a candidate he could have seized the opportunity to validate his Democratic base by commending the Court for its prudent judgment. It wouldn’t have been a stretch for him to agree with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the majority that there is “a distinction between intentional first-degree murder on the one hand and nonhomicide crimes against individual persons,” and that the latter, albeit devastating and horrid, does not pass the “egregious” test.

So what’s going on here? My best guess: Obama is brandishing his credentials as a “tough guy” Democrat and protecting himself from Swiftboat-style attacks against him as a “soft on crime,” criminal-coddling, Weatherman-hobnobbing radical. Already Floyd Brown, the nasty creator of the Willie Horton smears, has run ads assaulting Obama for his vote on gang-related murders. The threat from these guys is real, and Obama is right to steel himself for a below-the-belt fight. Again, fair enough… to a point. My concern, though, is that we’re seeing some strong and unmistakable–and, in my opinion, unmistakably troubling–early signals of a major Obama pivot heading into the general-election campaign.

There are two Obamas: Primary Obama and General-election Obama. And, unfortunately, there seems to be increasing distance between their stances on critical issues. Primary Obama was the progressive alternative to Hillary’s same-old insiderdom, the change we can believe in, a new way forward. General-election Obama is shaping up to be cut from a similar cloth as the past few (losing) Democratic presidential contenders: centrist on trade, regulation and taxes; weak-kneed and/or unprincipled on key legislation; in bed with big money and special interests; overly consulted on messaging (witness his botched apology to the Muslim women who were not allowed to stand behind him at a recent rally); insecure about toughness and thereby dangerously muscular on foreign policy and criminal justice.

A few warning signs from the past few weeks: General-election Obama broke Primary Obama’s pledge to accept public financing as a presidential candidate. General-election Obama is deploying Primary Obama’s rhetoric opposing the Patriot Act but nevertheless supporting a Senate bill that would extend Bush-era surveillance tactics and grant immunity to telecoms that enable warrantless wiretaps. Contrary to antiwar Primary Obama’s preference for diplomacy, General-election Obama wants to drop the Iraq surge in favor of unilateral intervention in Pakistan, and in one of his first appearances after defeating Clinton in the primaries, he promised AIPAC that he would do “everything in my power” to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

And now, following the Kennedy v. Louisiana ruling, General-election Obama has sided with the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court who dissented on a decision to narrow the use of the death penalty.

TPM on DOJ Investigation

In today’s episode of TPM TV, Josh Marshall (who won the prestigious Polk award for exposing the US Attorneys scandal) explains why yesterday’s report on illegal hiring practices at the Justice Department, though focusing narrowly on a small part of a wider investigation, should be read as an “ominous sign” for those who were involved in the firing of the US Attorneys.

Midday Grab Bag

From the Baltimore Sun, news that the Justice Department filed motions yesterday to end federal oversight of two dysfunctional juvenile justice facilities in Maryland.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, an op-ed by Sara Totonchi, public policy director at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, on why “Kids Don’t Belong in Adult Court System.”

From the Oregonian, an op-ed by Ken Chapman, juvenile justice policy adviser for Crime Victims United of Oregon, on struggles to deal with (and report accurately on) violent youth in detention in the Portland area.

OJJDP Chief of Staff: You’re Fired!

Youth Today‘s Patrick Boyle, who broke the story on the scandalous OJJDP grantmaking process, has an update following last week’s oversight committee hearings. OJJDP chief of staff Michele DeKonty, who took the Fifth rather than submit testimony at the hearings (and who apparently didn’t alert her higher-ups about that decision), has been dismissed. In a brief email to his staff–leaked, I assume, to Boyle–OJJDP administrator J. Robert Flores wrote, “Over the past 2 years I have had the benefit of working with a talented and professional Chief of Staff in Michele DeKonty…. I want to recognize her for her service to America’s children and our Office.” Yeah, I’m all teary-eyed about it, too, Flores. Lace ’em up, pal. You’re next.

Illegal Hiring at the Justice Department

The Justice Department’s inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility released a joint report yesterday investigating allegations of politicized hiring at the DOJ. The report, according to the introduction (a PDF of the whole document is available here), looked into whether “political or ideological affiliations of applicants were improperly considered in the selection of candidates” in two prestigious Justice Department programs: the Attorney General’s Honors Program, for entry-level attorneys, and the Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP), a paid internship. The answer, after extensive research into thousands of applications, email correspondence and other relevant material: yes, indeed. Liberals need not apply.

In 2002, after senior DOJ officials reviewed the honors program, the hiring process was changed dramatically to counteract a perceived over-representation of liberals. Political appointees yanked the recruitment process from the (nonpartisan) career attorneys, who had overseen it for many years, and candidates with liberal organizations on their resumes began to be “deselected” from consideration. In 2002, for example, all members of the liberal American Constitution Society were rejected, while members of the conservative Federalist Society received a 93 percent approval rating. That same year, 43 of 61 applicants affiliated with the Democratic Party were bounced, while 41 of 46 Republican applicants were let in. (You can get a quick overview of the data in this helpful graph from the New York Times.)

The trend continued until 2006, when it accelerated under then-AG Alberto Gonzales. That year, the report notes, “many complaints surfaced after the Screening Committee took weeks, rather than the normal 2 days, to conduct its review, and deselected an unusually large number of seemingly qualified Honors Program and SLIP candidates.” That was also the year that Michael Elston, the Deputy Attorney General’s Chief of Staff–who may also have had a hand in the highly politicized dismissal of US Attorneys–was placed in charge of the Screening Committee. Under Elston’s watch Honors Program candidates whose applications reflected liberal affiliations were deselected at more than three times the rate (55 percent) of those with conservative ties (18 percent) and more than twice the rate of those without any political affiliations (23 percent). The bottom line, according to the audit: “Elston violated federal law and Department policy by deselecting candidates based on their liberal affiliations.” (Elston has since resigned from the Justice Department, along with his colleague and partner in crime Esther Slater McDonald.)

In April 2007, responding to criticisms from within the department–the investigation was prompted by an anonymous letter from DOJ staffers to Congress–the selection process for the honors program and SLIP was revamped, reverting essentially to oversight by career DOJ employees rather than political appointees. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said in a statement yesterday, “The Department overhauled its honors program and summer law intern program hiring processes last year, and I am pleased that the report remarked positively on these institutional changes. I have also made clear, and will continue to make clear, that the consideration of political affiliations in the hiring of career department employees is impermissible and unacceptable.”

That’s promising, I guess. But it’s worth noting that this investigation was only the first in a series of reports on the Bush-era repurposing of the Justice Department as a White House weapon. This report looked at the damage done to upstart and aspiring attorneys at the beginning of their careers; next up, and starring a similar cast of seedy characters, a related investigation into the politicized removal of US Attorneys at the peak of their careers. Most of these guys, remember, were let go because they refused to launch specious investigations into voter fraud that would have damaged Democratic candidates in the 2006 midterm elections, or because they successfully prosecuted Republican Congressmen for corruption. That’s not justice; that’s partisan warfare.

Yesterday’s report, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said, “confirms our findings and our fears that the same senior department officials involved with the firing of United States attorneys were injecting improper political motives into the process of hiring young attorneys. I suspect further reports from the inspector general will continue to shed light on the extent to which the Bush administration has allowed politics to affect–and infect–the department’s priorities.”