Our weekly review of juvenile justice news here and abroad.
TONI IN TROUBLE: Last week, I noted that Michigan Avenue magazine had named Toni Irving one of the city’s most influential women.
This week, Toni Irving is one of the city’s most most influential women whose job security is suddenly in question.
It turns out that Irving, whose resume includes posts such as deputy chief of staff to Governor Pat Quinn, chair of the State of Illinois Human Services Commission, and Co-Chair of the Poverty Elimination Commission, also played a central role in Quinn’s controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
Irving is now at the center of a campaign storm not just based on her NRI work, but because she now works as the executive director of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s version of NRI, Get In Chicago.
Meanwhile, the now-defunct NRI is now the subject of three investigations, including one by federal prosecutors, on the heels of a state auditor’s report that found the the program to have been riddled with mismanagement, at best, and with criminal behavior at worst.
If not for this development, I would have led this item with the news that Get In Chicago on Wednesday made its inaugural grants – totaling $1.9 million – to 11 organizations.
BOBBIE’S JOB: “Restoring stability to Illinois’ troubled child-welfare agency as it faces the possibility of budget cuts are among the challenges the agency’s new director said she will face in coming months,” the Tribune reported on Monday.
“Bobbie Gregg acknowledged that the revolving door of directors within the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has shaken morale and slowed change. Gregg, 58, is the agency’s fourth director in six months.”
Of course, if Bruce Rauner defeats Pat Quinn in November, he will likely replace Gregg with an appointee of his own. Then again, if Quinn wins re-election, he will likely re-start a national search to fill Gregg’s post that was cut short because of the very uncertainty of the campaign outcome.
Either way, Gregg shouldn’t get too comfortable.
FOUND MONEY: “An extra $1.2 billion in revenue that the state expects to receive this fiscal year should go toward back-pay for state workers and paying down the state’s backlog of bills, Sen. Dave Luechtefeld said Wednesday,” the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
“Illinois Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice employees statewide are owed are more than $88 million in back pay. Even after a court order, the administration and legislative majorities have continued to stall on issuing the payments to our public safety workers,” Luechtefeld said. “In my district alone, more than $10 million is owed to the employees of Menard, Big Muddy, Pinckneyville, DuQuoin and several other southern Illinois correctional centers.”
* The unexpected honeypot is the result of better-than-expected personal income tax and sales taxes collections. Expect lawmakers to fight like rabid dogs over the new dollars.
TEEN BEEFS ARE THE NEW TURF WARS: “There are more than 300 of them in New York — violent crews of dozens of 12- to 20-year-olds with names such as Very Crispy Gangsters, True Money Gang and Cash Bama Bullies,” AP reported last Thursday.
“Police say these groups, clustered around a particular block or housing project, are responsible for about 40 percent of the city’s shootings, with most of that violence stemming from the smallest of disses on the street, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
“It’s like belonging to an evil fraternity,” said Inspector Kevin Catalina, commander of the New York Police Department’s gang division. “A lot of it is driven by nothing: A dispute over a girl or a wrong look or a perceived slight.”
“The trend of smaller, younger crews has also been seen in Chicago and Northeast cities over the last few years as police have cracked down on bigger, more traditional gangs, experts said. While the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings still exist, operating such money-making schemes as drug dealing, their members are usually older and understand the timeworn mantra of organized crime: violence is bad for business.”
This analysis of what youth violence looks like now mirrors the assertions of Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy. After 14-year-old Endia Martin was shot and killed in what appears to have been a dispute started on Facebook, McCarthy said “What would have been, under any other circumstances, probably a fistfight between two 14-year-old girls because of an argument over a boy turned into a murder. That’s insanity. This is madness, folks.”
FLORIDA FOCUS: “The Florida legislature has approved a bill allowing for judicial review of very long sentences for youth offenders, recognizing the injustice of such sentences for children, Human Rights Watch said [last Friday].
“House Bill 7035 on Juvenile Sentencing passed on May 2, 2014, by a vote of 115 to 0. The measure now goes to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.”
*Also awaiting Scott’s signature: “[A] bipartisan bill to provide attorneys to represent dependent, special-needs children in the legal custody of the Department of Children and Families.
BATTLING BULLIES: “Students who are bullied are almost twice as likely to carry a weapon at school,” Vox reported Tuesday.
“A new study from researchers at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York found the correlation by looking at the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and comparing reports of bullying with reports of carrying a weapon, including guns and knives.”
* Click through to Vox to see the chart that says it all.
BRING BACK OUR GIRLS: “The girls were relaxing in their dorms at the Government Girls Secondary School in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok when gunmen arrived in trucks, cars and on motorcycles,” Brian Reis wrote for Mashable on Tuesday.
“There were dozens of them — suspected jihadis with the Boko Haram Islamic group — and they were heavily armed. After shooting the guards, and setting fire to houses, the terrorists kidnapped nearly 300 of the girls and drove off into the woods.
“That was on April 15. The girls haven’t been heard from since.”
Reis went on to write that “the media, for the most part, has remained largely silent.”
Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing wrote that “Maybe if the more than 200 Nigerian girls abducted from their school weeks ago were on a ferry in Korea, a jet liner in the Indian Ocean, in the owner’s box at a Clippers basketball game, or were white, the world would pay more attention.”
They are now. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has been tweeted nearly a million times – including this one from Michelle Obama.
Michelle’s husband also pledged his support, saying “We’re going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them. In the short term our goal is obviously to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies.”
OUT OF THE SHADOWS IN CHINA: “According to a Chinese government report, 125 cases of child sex abuse were documented in 2013, a record number for China, where people don’t normally talk about these things,” Lijia Zhang wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed last Friday.
“There is insufficient data to claim that sex abuse of minors is rising. What has changed is that the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves, and that the government is reacting.”
* A math teacher molested Zhang and her classmates in a school on the outskirts of Nanjing in the ’70s.
DATELINE GUAM: “Lawmakers on Guam will be voting this week on a legislation aiming to reduce juvenile delinquency with counseling and mediation,” AP reported Wednesday.
“The bill aims to prevent youth from getting caught in a cycle of crime, said Speaker Judith Won Pat who leads the sole chamber in Guam’s unicameral legislature.”
In her weekly address, Won Pat said that “Justice is not simply punishment. It must be holistic and effective, especially when dealing with juveniles.”