UPDATE, February 12, 2013: In an exclusive interview with Kaukab Jhumra Smith on Juvenile Justice Information Exchange yesterday, Robert Listenbee, Jr., who has not yet been given a timeline for his appointment as administrator of the U.S. Dept. of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (see story below), spoke on a few of his concerns:
... I’ve worked with the National Juvenile Defenders Center, where we’ve looked to see the extent to which In re Gault [Editor’s note: a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juveniles have the same rights to due process as adults] has been implemented across the United States. Even though Gault came into effect in 1967, the right to counsel is still not a right that’s widely recognized throughout the United States.
You go to countless jurisdictions where you do not find children having lawyers to represent them at all kinds of proceedings, or children are represented through the dispositional stage but once they go into placement there are no lawyers to represent them. Many of them languish in placement for extended periods of time, often without just cause. And that’s of deep concern to me... the most important thing that kids really want when they come to court, is they want to be treated fairly. They want to have quality representation, and they want to make sure they are not being treated any differently than any other children that come into the system.
Also, parents and guardians of children who come into our system really want someone to communicate with them and talk about issues and concerns that they have about their children going into the juvenile justice system. And to that extent I think it really does matter that the person who is involved with OJJDP has some background and experience really understanding the plight of children...
February 4, 2013: The Obama Administration announced Friday that Philadelphia defense attorney Robert Listenbee Jr. (left, photo by D.T. Kindler) will be the administrator of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Senate confirmation is no longer required for this position, which has not had a permanent executive for nearly five years.
In the Obama Administration, Listenbee (along with Major League Baseball's exec vp Joe Torre) has co-chaired Attorney General Eric Holder's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, which filed its report, "Defending Childhood: Protect, Heal, Thrive," December 12, 2012.
In the section of the report, "Rethinking Our Juvenile Justice System," the task force concluded:
The relationship between exposure to violence and involvemnent in the justice system is not a coincidencel. Exposure to violence often leads to distrust, hypervigilance, impulsive behavior, isolation, addiction, lack of empathy or concern for others, and self-protective aggression. When young people experience prolonged or repeated violence, their bodies and brains adapt by becoming focused on survival. This dramatically reduces their ability to delay impulses and gratification...youth who are trying to protect themselves...or who do not know how to deal with violence they may have experienced, may engage in delinquent or criminal behavior as a way to gain a sense of control...to cope with emotional turmoil and barriers to security and success that violence creates....traumatic violence... can delay or derail brain development...by failing to correctly identify and treat children exposed to violence, the [juvenile justice] system wastes an opportunity to alter the delinquent or criminal conduct...there are evidence-based interventions that can help to repair the emotinal damage...too often not used because they are not known or appreciated..."
According to Kaukab Jhumra Smith writing for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Listenbee, who heads the Juvenile Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia,is a long-time champion of limiting the detention and incarceration of juveniles and keeping them out of adult facilities.
Juvenile justice professionals who have worked with Listenbee agree he is the right choice. The White House made a “superb pick,” said Nancy Gannon Hornberger, the executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based alliance. “...Listenbee is visionary, collaborative, and impactful in juvenile justice policy and practice reform — he’s the right person at a critical time.”
“He’s a person who’s worked very, very well with every stakeholder in the system for many, many years: with police, with prosecutors, with judges, with public and private officials,” said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, who has worked with Listenbee for two decades. “He’s smart, and he’s savvy politically, and he cares deeply about improving and maintaining good systems for kids.”
The White House press statement on Friday mentioned the president’s “intent to appoint” Listenbee...said Listenbee had agreed to join the administration [but] did not say when Listenbee would take office.
Listenbee, who is a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, will have to resign that post to take the office, according to John Kelly and Marion Mattingly of the Chronicle of Social Change:
...During Obama’s first term, the DOJ vetted a number of candidates for the OJJDP job, including former Atlanta Juvenile Judge Karen Baynes and former Texas Juvenile Probation Commissioner Vicki Spriggs. Both women withdrew from consideration shortly before a nomination was to be made.
Listenbee would inherit an agency that has shrunk in stature amid federal budget battles in fiscal 2011 and 2012. OJJDP took a $148 million cut in 2011, and experienced further cuts in the 2012 appropriations deal...
Written by Taylor McCulloch.