Ellen Schall and the Department of Juvenile Justice

Case Solution

Pamela Varley, Arnold Howitt
Harvard Kennedy School ()

This case of “Innovations in State and Local Government” began in January 1983 when Ellen Schall was appointed a commissioner of the New York Department of Youth Justice, an agency in transition. DJJ was formed to detain boys ages seven to fifteen between arrest and sentencing. Most of DJJ’s charges are in a 25-year-old secure detention facility called “Spofford,” a notoriously violent and dilapidated facility in the South Bronx. The case describes the situation when Schall responds. In addition to internal tensions and major operational problems in all departments, the agency has a history of bad press and disputes with the city council. The department also struggles with deep racial and class tensions among staff and with great confusion about its mission. The case ends with Schall planning to speak with a new group of youth counselors to articulate his vision of the agency. The case offers students the opportunity to diagnose the agency’s complaints and define a strategic course of action. On the discussion topics: How should Schall put together a management team? How should she deal with the confusion over the agency’s mission? What should I do about the racist tension? How much should you meddle with the complicated operational problems facing your agency departments? House number HKS 793.0

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