National Center for Juvenile Justice Celebrating 40 Years of Improving Justice for Children & Families through Research & Technical Assistance
Melissa Sickmund, Ph.D., Director
National Center for Juvenile Justice
The National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) began in 1973 with funding raised by then Allegheny County juvenile court judge, Maurice Cohill, an NCJFCJ Board member at the time. Judge Cohill thought that given the importance of the decisions made from the bench in the lives of children and their families, it would be good for the Council to have a research department. The planning effort began in 1967. Judge Cohill persisted and eventually raised enough money in his home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to hire a Director and open for business. That Director was Hunter Hurst III and the rest as they say, is history.
Excerpt from Judge Cohill's message in NCJJ's first annual report:
It is with a great deal of personal pleasure that I write this introduction to the first annual report of the National Center for Juvenile Justice. I became involved with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in planning for the Center in 1967, and what then seemed like an impossible dream came true in the fall of 1973.
Arrangements have been made to locate the Center at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Law, and a committee of judges did an exhaustive job in reviewing candidates for the directorship of the Center. Hunter Hurst was hired as Director in September 1973 and he completed the hiring of his staff in November 1973 through June 1974. Despite this, I have been amazed at the many directions Center activities have taken and the variety of projects it has undertaken.
NCJJ staff can look back with pride and face the future with confidence
The Center's goal is to generate sufficient income to become self-supporting within the next few years. My personal review of the first eight months of operations leads me to believe that this is a realistic goal.
Excerpt from Judge Cohill's message in NCJJ's 30th anniversary annual report:
In our early years, the Center faced a number of potential problems: What would the research community think about a judges' organization doing research on judicial issues? How would the National Council staff in Reno react to another staff across the country in Pittsburgh? Where would the money come from?
There have been positive answers to all of those problems. The Center is recognized by the research community as a responsible, reliable, and independent resource. The staff in Reno and the staff in Pittsburgh get along very well, despite the inconvenience of distance and time zones.
The money has always gotten here - sometimes later than we would have liked, sometimes not as much as we would have liked, but always enough to keep us keeping on. Life in the non-profit world is never easy - especially when so much depends on the vagaries of Congress, the economy, and our success with grant proposals. Nevertheless, the Center is a vital and viable instrument benefiting the juvenile justice system and those whom the system is intended to benefit.
Excerpt from Hunter Hurst's message in NCJJ's second annual report:
The major highlight of the year as far as I am concerned is just around the corner. It now appears reasonably certain that the Center will be awarded a contract by the U.S. Department of Justice to collect juvenile court statistics nationally. This task was originally done by the U.S. Children's Bureau in 1926. We have already begun the process of collecting 1974's statistics. This achievement provides us with the capacity to be of service to courts as well as researchers, planners, and legislators.
This project to date is a tribute to the imagination and foresight of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges for their efforts in designing and supporting a truly relevant and practically useful National Center for Juvenile Justice.
So, in 1975, NCJJ established itself as the collector of juvenile court case records for the newly established Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), continuing a project that dates back to the 1920s. That project, the National Juvenile Court Data Archive, remains at the core of NCJJ's work today. NCJJ is now also involved in several other national Department of Justice data collections.
Forty years involves far too many projects to list them all. Suffice it to say that NCJJ has had a major role in juvenile justice in the U.S. not only through national data collection, but through data and system improvement efforts at the local, state, and national levels. NCJJ also has a major role in disseminating research, statistical, statute, and practice information to the field and to the public. NCJJ will continue to articulate the need for data-driven decision making and work to assist jurisdictions in applying data to decision making and continue to work with jurisdictions to help them in their system reform efforts.
For four decades, NCJJ has provided technical assistance, conducted research and provided objective, factual information that professionals and decision makers in the juvenile and family justice system can use to increase effectiveness. NCJJ's success stems from a unique blend of technical skill and practical experience that has enabled us to make complex research and statistical information practically understood by juvenile justice professionals and decision makers.
Excerpt from Hunter Hurst's message in NCJJ's 30th anniversary annual report:
If thirty years in this business means anything, it means that you did not take the money and run and you had some luck that was not all bad.
Some of our good luck was being founded by a strong organization - The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, having an able and willing Board of Fellows - chaired from the beginning by a stalwart, Hon. Maurice B. Cohill, Jr., and a generous response from local foundations, corporations, and the U.S. Department of Justice. With that kind of start up, all that remained was finding good employees and giving them their head. On this last count, we hit the jackpot!
We have the best employees in the Western hemisphere. The quality of their work is without parallel.
- Hunter Hurst
I joined NCJJ in the fall of 1986, when NCJJ had just turned 13. I now have the honor of serving as NCJJ's third Director. I'd like to reiterate two of Hunter's points above. First, the fact that we are still here thriving after 40 years says something about our work (and our luck). Second, we have the best employees anywhere. The quality of their work is without parallel. Our funding is strong with more than $3.25 million in projects for the coming year. NCJJ staff can look back with pride and face the future with confidence.
If you do not know NCJJ or our work, please contact me. I'd love to enlighten you.
If your court or other juvenile justice agencies in your jurisdiction need help with anything relating to data, research, or statistics, please contact me. I'd love the opportunity to discuss ways that NCJJ can work with you to improve juvenile justice in your community.
If you are familiar with NCJJ and our work, please contact me. I'd love to talk with you about ways you can spread the word and perhaps help support our future by making a donation.
Dr. Sickmund can be reached at 412–246–0824 or firstname.lastname@example.org.