Copyright 1994 Bergen Record Corp.
PROGRAMS FALTER WHILE FUNDS GO UNTAPPEDBy CHRISTOPHER KILBOURNE
As programs for delinquents die on the vine, New Jersey is passing up federal and private funds that could add millions of dollars each year to the stateís juvenile justice coffers.
Officials have known for years that the state could qualify for more than $3 million in Social Security and Medicaid money for juvenile offenders in treatment and rehabilitation programs. But so far, the state has failed to restructure its programs and procedures to meet the eligibility requirements.
"Itís outrageous," said Edward Loughran, director of the juvenile justice project for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial in Boston. "Here is the money just sitting there waiting to be tapped. Any state that has not pursued that money vigorously does not understand the times we are living in."
Loughran and others say that New Jersey also is missing the boat by not trying to tap private foundations for juvenile justice grants.
"I'm not saying it's an open checkbook, but there is a possibility of getting substantial dollars there," said Paul DeMuro, a juvenile justice consultant in Montclair.
Exploring alternative funding sources has taken on a new urgency in light of Governor Whitman's proposals to revamp the system -- including creating boot camps and requiring more of the state's serious young offenders to serve time behind bars -- while trying to hold the line on expenditures.
Some experts say that money for Whitman's boot camp proposal may be available from the federal crime bill pending in Congress, but that state officials will have to actively pursue it -- something they have not done with other funding sources.
In a 1991 memo prepared for Corrections Department officials, consultant Linda Wood estimated that the state could be getting about $2.9 million annually from the Social Security Title IV-E program if the state Division of Juvenile Services retooled its procedures and its residential programs -- even if only half of the residents qualified for the funds.
To qualify for Title IV-E money, a juvenile must be from a family that is receiving or is eligible to receive federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and must be placed in an appropriately licensed private facility or a non-secure public facility with a capacity of no more than 25.
Other requirements include a judicial determination that the placement is necessary for the juvenile's welfare, written service plans for each youth in the programs, independent living plans for those 16 and 17 years old, a statement that the juvenile has been placed in the least-restrictive setting, and regular hearings to determine whether the placement should continue.
Conforming New Jersey's programs and procedures to the federal requirements could be somewhat complicated, Wood said, but "the fiscal benefits could be great."
New Jersey's Division of Juvenile Services is taking steps to qualify its programs for the federal money, but "it might take us 1 Ĺ to two years to get to that point," said Theodore Joseph, the division's acting director.
Joseph cautioned that the Title IV-E money may not be the bonanza portrayed by Wood, and that qualifying for the funds is "much more intricate than she made it out to be." Complying with federal requirements could prove costly and require the creation of new programs to handle the overflow from the eight Division of Juvenile Services programs that currently hold more than 25 juveniles, he said.
The state also has failed to go after at least $150,000 a year in Medicaid money because officials have misinterpreted regulations that preclude Medicaid payments for youths who have been committed to a "correctional institution" for detention, Wood said. Juveniles placed in residential programs do not fall under that prohibition, she said.
"I am convinced that many, if not all, of the youth in the community residential programs with a capacity of 25 or less are potentially eligible for Medicaid," she wrote.
Wood's recommendations are not novel: States such as Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Utah have been receiving the federal funds for years. In Pennsylvania, federal dollars are added to state funds to reimburse counties, which pay the costs of treating and rehabilitating juvenile offenders.
The federal money offsets about 57 percent of the costs of keeping a juvenile in an approved facility, said James E. Anderson, director of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges' Commission.
"It's absolutely worth spending the time to find out if it [obtaining the federal funding] can be done," Wood said in an interview. "And my distinct impression is that it can be."
Loughran agreed. "Anyone who doesn't take advantage of it is shortchanging not only the state but all of those kids," he said.
But Joseph said the states that already are taking Title IV-E money to defray their juvenile justice costs may have interpreted the requirements too liberally. "I'm not sure that what they are doing in Pennsylvania or Massachusetts could withstand an audit," he said.
Still, the division is working to make its programs eligible for the funds, Joseph said, noting that reducing program capacity to 25 would have other obvious benefits.
The division also is trying to qualify for Medicaid reimbursement. That process should take about another two months, he said.
In addition to pursuing federal resources, the Whitman administration should reach out to private foundations that provide grants for criminal justice, health, or child welfare programs, juvenile justice experts say.
"There's a pretty substantial group of New Jersey foundations that could be useful," said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
"My recommendation is that the governor call together all the foundation executives in New Jersey and tell them of her plans to reform juvenile justice and ask them for help. Most respond when the governor asks for that kind of help."
DeMuro agreed that such a meeting probably would prove fruitful. "She'd get some money, although I can't say how much.
"Foundations are hungry for people to show that reform can still happen," he said. "But there needs to be a plan, and there needs to be local support."
A key element of successful proposals is a contingency plan forfunding a program when the grant money runs out. "There has to be a refinancing strategy worked out in advance," DeMuro said.
Spokesmen for some of the foundations mentioned by the experts said that they would be receptive to juvenile justice program proposals from the state.
"We provide funding for programs all over the country, and, of course, New Jersey would be included," said Leonard Berman, a program officer for the Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, D.C. "Most of the grants we make are to non-profit organizations, but this does not preclude government agencies."
The growing perception of juvenile crime as a public health issue has broadened the array of foundations that might respond favorably to juvenile justice proposals.
Loughran said that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, which focuses on health-care improvement, approached his organization about a health and juvenile justice program. The result was a grant for community-based substance abuse programs tied into the juvenile justice systems of six jurisdictions around the country, he said.
"They and other foundations are looking to get more involved in juvenile corrections," Loughran said.
Marc Kaplan, a spokesman for the Johnson Foundation, said that grants are provided to governmental bodies as well as non-profit organizations. But he cautioned that juvenile justice is not a primary focus of the foundation, and that a successful proposal would need a health-care or substance-abuse focus and would have to be "innovative, sustainable, and reproducible."
"We are looking for innovative ways to reach young people to get them to stop using illicit substances," he said.
Counties and municipalities do not have to wait for the state to go after foundation money, the experts said.
"Some local governments systematically see the private sector as a source of support," said Hunter Hurst, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh. But, he added, "Most local governments don't even know how to write proposals for private support.
"If that resource is going to be actualized, it's going to be actualized on a local level," he said. "It's a valuable resource largely untapped by the public sector."