Much needed reform comes in new juvenile justice billJuvenile Justice
Today, there are over 60,000 young people in juvenile detention centers all across America. These youth are disproportionately Black and Latino, and their experience in detention relies completely on the regulations of their individual justice system, of which there are over 56 in the United States.
Because there is no one centralized juvenile justice system, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was passed in 1974 in an effort to address inconsistencies between systems and ensure better outcomes for youth. Unfortunately for today’s incarcerated youth, JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2002, and expired in 2007. This left juvenile justice systems nationwide without consistent standards for practice or training resources to do with community-based solutions. But in April, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015, which sought to improve and renew the original JJDPA. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill by voice vote on Thursday, July 23.
According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, this new legislation, which has gained strong bipartisan support in the Senate, consists of four core requirements that help protect some of our most vulnerable youth: they cannot be incarcerated for non-criminal behaviors known as “status offenses,” they must be removed from adult jails and lockups, youth who are housed in adult facilities under rare exceptions must be separated by sight and sound barriers, and states must address disproportionate minority contact (DMC) within their systems.
This bill provides funding to state programs to serve and protect at-risk-youth, acknowledges new studies of youth’s brain development as inadequate to adults, and requires states to hone in on Black and Brown youth who are highly targeted on the streets and unjustly treated at every decision point of the justice system.
A recent press release quotes Senator Grassley, saying “Our bill provides a long-overdue policy refresh to improve opportunities for our nation’s must vulnerable children and strengthen safeguards for youth who encounter the juvenile justice system. Our goal is to make sure that youth can benefit from the programs’ full potential.” Senator Whitehouse remarked, “This long-awaited reauthorization could put a real dent in the school-to-prison pipeline and assure that law enforcement intervention with kids does the least possible unnecessary harm to them and to their futures. It’s a commonsense bill that will help kids maintain their education while detained, keep kids out of jail for status offenses that would never land an adult in prison, divert them to substance abuse and mental health services if that’s the real problem, better protect them from adult criminals and from solitary confinement, and address racial disparities in the current system.”
Next, the bill will move to the Senate floor. Let’s keep fighting and hope that our U.S. Congress votes to repair our juvenile justice system, ultimately enriching the lives of our young children and adults.
Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on juvenile justice.