A Call to Action for Bipartisan Support of Juvenile Justice Reforms

Posted by Lori Moore

Jun 22, 2017 8:15:00 AM

We need to  pass the Juvenile Justice Deliquency Prevention Act among other juvenile justice reforms in the United States

There are not many things that draw out bipartisan support in the United States federal government these days. However, the House and the Senate agree on one thing across the aisle—we need to make the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) a priority. How we go about doing that, of course, is where the conversations continue.

The JJDPA, enacted in 1974 by Congress, was aimed at addressing the inconsistencies that existed in the nearly 56 different juvenile-justice systems across the United States and its territories. Along with this goal, the act was further intended to improve youth outcomes and address community safety.

Keeping youth safely at home and reducing the use of high-level incarceration facilities has long been a national aim. In the past several years, we have seen many communities work to increase the use of evidence-based programs, such as Multisystemic Therapy, to achieve the objectives of the original JJDPA. There is still much work to be done. 

The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) advocates for Congress to prioritize our nation’s youth, families and communities. It has prepared several policy recommendations in support of prevention, early intervention and family empowerment for justice-involved and at-risk youth. 

The coalition calls on the 115th Congress to:

  1. Restore Appropriations for Juvenile Justice Programs: Research shows prevention works. For every $1 invested in community-based programs, we dramatically reduce delinquency and save taxpayer dollars. Community-based and family-centered treatment has shown to be far more effective than incarceration. Funding is critical to the ongoing work we do to keep youth safely at home and address their critical risk factors. 
  2. Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
  3. Eliminate the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception: When initially enacted, the JJDPA prohibited states from incarcerating young people when they committed status offenses. Status offenses are those that are illegal because of one’s status as a minor. They include skipping school, running away from home, violating curfew, failing to obey a parent’s rules and possessing alcohol. However, in 1980, an amendment to the act, called the valid court order (VCO) exception, resulted in the loss of this protection. Such an order could be as simple as a statement by a judge requiring a child to attend school regularly. Any violation of this VCO could be grounds for detention. OJJDP reports that 27 states continue to use the VCO exception to detain youth for status offenses. We know that detention can be damaging, especially for low-risk youth in need of services. Eliminating this loophole and instead providing community-based supports would result in better outcomes for youth.
  4. Pass the Youth Promise Act 
  5. Build on proven strategies to increase school engagement and success for all youth, thereby reducing the school-to-prison pipeline: The pervasive use of exclusionary discipline and zero-tolerance policies have created what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Though disproportionately affecting minority youth, this pipeline impacts young people from across lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability and socioeconomic status. Pushing those with the highest needs out of school and into the justice system leads to poor outcomes for schools, communities and youth by ultimately denying youth the opportunity of their educational experience. CJJ supports ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
  6. Stop trafficked youth from being criminalized for behaviors resulting from their victimization
  7. Reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Act
  8. Pass the REDEEM Act

To read more about each of these recommendations, visit the Coalition for Juvenile Justice website at www.juvjustice.org.

This is a critical time in our history to address the rates of juvenile incarceration. Many states, such as Georgia, Utah, Kentucky and West Virginia are in the midst of juvenile justice reform and need ongoing support to ensure reform comes with the use of evidence-based practices.

Call to action 

We are excited and grateful that the House passed the reauthorization of the JJDPA. Our work is not done, however. Write or e-mail your representative today, and thank him/her for passing this important legislation.

Then, write, call or e-mail your senators, and urge them to bring legislation E. 860 to the floor, to reauthorize the JJDPA. Click here for resources to help craft these letters.

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform