Franklin James Cook

Juvenile Justice Suicide Report’s Delay Called “Public Disservice”

In Prevention, Research on February 16, 2009 at 10:43 pm

ORIGINAL REPORT — According to a report by staff writer John Kelley in Youth Today, a national newspaper for professionals in the youth service field, “the author of a recent U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention report on suicides in juvenile facilities says that, despite the major findings it produced, the agency sat on the report for five years for reasons that have never been disclosed to him.”

Lindsay Hayes, a project director for the NCIA [National Center on Institutions and Alternatives], told Youth Today he handed in the report [titled “Characteristics of Juvenile Suicide in Confinement“]  during the winter of 2004. OJJDP published the study and made it available on its website [on February 9, 2009].

Kelley also posted a companion story on Youth Today’s blog, summarizing the findings of the study, including that

  • more than a third of the 110 suicide deaths that occurred between 1995 and 1999 were not known to the supervising or licensing state agency …
  • many of the suicides were not known to child advocacy agencies, and nearly a sixth of the deaths were learned about through newspaper articles and conversation despite surveys sent to almost 4,000 public and private juvenile facilities …
  • more than two-thirds of private facilities did not respond to survey requests …
  • more than 70 percent of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 17 …
  • more than half of juveniles who killed themselves in detention did so in the first six days …
  • only 35 percent of them had received a mental health assessment at the time of their death … [and]
  • only 17 percent of the victims were on suicide watch at the time of their deaths.

The report recommends that juvenile facilities have written suicide prevention policies, and create and maintain effective training programs.

Pro Publica’s A.C. Thompson also reported on the OJJDP study in an article a few days after Youth Today broke the story, suggesting that the department’s delay of the report might have been strategic and questioning the actions of J. Robert Flores, who was chief of DOJ’s juvenile justice office at the time.

Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a San Francisco nonprofit, said the report would have made headlines had it been released in a timely fashion. “It would have been huge,” [he] said. “It would have led to legislative hearings, newspaper articles … It would have sparked an outcry.”

Over the years, Hayes said, the Justice Department vacillated on the status of the document, saying first that it was fast-tracked for publication and later that it had been rejected and “unapproved.” Last fall, Hayes complained about the delay to [Flores]. “I wrote kind of a nasty letter to Mr. Flores saying I was extremely frustrated that this report didn’t come out — that there are youth dying,” recalled Hayes.

This isn’t the first time controversy has found Flores, who has been the subject of congressional hearings. In June he was questioned by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about millions of dollars in grant spending, with then-Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) describing Flores’ grant-making process as “neither fair nor transparent.” [SPNAC readers can read Flores’s statement to the House committee.]

That same month, the Washington Post reported that Flores was the subject of a criminal probe into his “alleged use of government funds for personal travel expenses and his hiring of a politically well-connected contractor who allegedly performed little work in a high-paying job.”

In a column yesterday in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ruben Rosario writes that the delay in the report’s release was “a public disservice.”

The findings and recommendations from this unprecedented study could have saved lives while it sat gathering dust.

Rosario goes on to further implicate Flores, quoting “a former high-ranking OJJDP staffer [who] publicly accused Flores of steering OJJDP grant money to programs that had ‘religious, social or political’ connections to the Bush administration.”

One substantial grant was awarded to a juvenile golf foundation whose honorary chairman is George H.W. Bush, even though the program ranked 47th out of 104 grant bidders in an OJJDP funding priority report.

Best Friends, a teen-abstinence program ranked 57th and run by Bush family pal and former drug czar Bill Bennett, was awarded $1.1 million — twice the federal funds it requested.

Flores, who left with the recent change in administration, told ABC News’ Brian Ross that he was free to ignore OJJDP staff recommendations but denied playing favorites.

[The abridged URL for this post is  http://tinyurl.com/ReportDelay .]

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  1. I had not heard about any of this yet, so thanks for the article.

    For anyone interested, a PDF of the full report is available online at:

    http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/213691.pdf

  2. The full report is also available for download directly within the original post, above, by clicking on the report’s title, “Characteristics of Juvenile Suicide in Confinement.”

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