Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act

Overview

The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) established in 1974 and last reauthorized in 2002, provides crucial support for state programs that assist communities to take a comprehensive approach to juvenile crime prevention and to address the needs of vulnerable youth and those of their families early and effectively. The JJDPA supports delinquency prevention programs to improve state and local juvenile justice systems; a juvenile planning and advisory system in all states; and operation of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) dedicated to training, technical assistance, model program development, research and evaluation, and support of state and local efforts. Its reauthorization is currently more than seven years overdue. Since the last major reauthorization of the JJDPA nearly two decades ago, much more is known about what works and does not work to keep our communities safe and put youth on a better path.

While juvenile crime rates in the United States are at low levels and stable, youth in America - including youth charged with non-criminal misbehavior - are processed in the criminal justice system, locked-up and imprisoned at much higher rates than in other comparable nations. Youth of color are significantly over-represented at all stages of the juvenile justice system.

Legislative Status

Bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the JJDPA and strengthen its core protections was introduced in the Senate on April 30, 2015 by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), as S. 1169, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015. 

On July 23, 2015 the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved S. 1169 in substitute amendment form by voice vote, including new language to strengthen accountability in administration of grants authorized by the Act. Similar legislation to reauthorize the JJDPA was introduced in the House by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), as H.R. 2728, the Youth Justice Act of 2015.

S. 1169 currently has 17 bipartison cosponsors. The lead sponsors sought in December 2015 and in February 2016 to resolve concerns of key Senators so that the bill could be considered by the full Senate under a unanimous consenta greement. Currently, the sole holdout is Tom Cotton (R-AR). The House is expected to take up the Senate bill once the Senate acts.

Key Points

The ABA urges members of the Senate to cosponsor or support S. 1169 and House members to support similar legislation to reauthorize the JJDPA and strengthen the Act’s core protections for youth that states must implement, including provisions to :

End Detention or Jailing of Non-Criminal Status Offenders: The reauthorization legislation will fully phase-out over three years and eliminate the Valid Court Order exception states have used to jail large numbers of non-delinquent status offenders, such as youth who are truant, runaway, or violate curfew, alcohol and tobacco laws. Shelter care, family support and community or school-based interventions are less costly and less harmful to youth development.

Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities: Youth of color are disproportionately over-represented and subject to more punitive sanctions than similarly-charged/situated white youth at all levels of the juvenile justice system. Legislation should require States and localities to plan and implement data-driven approaches, set measurable goals for disparity reduction, collect data and publically report on progress each year.

Improve the Jail Removal and Sight-and-Sound Core Requirements: Youth confined in adult jails and lock-ups are more likely to re-offend upon release and while confined are at pronounced high risks for suffering assault and committing suicide. The bill extends the jail removal and sight and sound core requirements to keep youth awaiting trial in criminal court out of adult lock-ups and to ensure sight and sound separation in the limited circumstances where they are held in adult facilities.

Other juvenile justice improvements:

• JJDPA reauthorization should include provisions that promote fairness through support for State efforts to expand prompt youth access to qualified counsel and support programs that inform youth of opportunities to seal or expunge juvenile records once they have gotten their lives back on track.

• JJDPA legislation should also promote community-based alternatives to detention; improve screening, diversion, assessment and treatment for mental health and substance abuse needs; and require greater accountability in the use of resources, oversight of grant programs, and compliance with federal standards.

Updated as of:

June 2016

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