10 Ways a Reauthorized JJDPA Would Improve Young Lives, Communities

March 18, 2018

The top ten reasons Congress should act to reauthorize this critical law today. Some of these may surprise you.

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We're closer than we have been in the past decade to a full Congressional reauthorization of the nation's federal juvenile justice bill, the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). This critical law represents a partnership between the federal government and the states to protect children and youth in the justice system, effectively address high-risk behavior and improve community safety.

This key key bill was last updated in 2002 and techincally expired five years later, making it ten years overdue for Congressional reathorization—and that matters. The JJDPA is the only federal law that sets national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system and provides direction and support for states to improve their juvenile justice programs.

It’s a common-sense law with common-sense improvements that will help some of our most vulnerable youth, promote public safety and ensure scare federal and state dollars are used wisely.

How common-sense you say? To answer that here’s our top ten list of reasons that Congress should act to reauthorize the law today!

  1. Girls shouldn’t be shackled while giving birth. Currently, incarcerated girls can be shackled while giving birth. A reuthorized JJDPA will end the inhumane practice of shackling pregnant girls during labor. Learn more.
    twitter End the inhumane practice of shackling girls while pregnant. Reauthorize the #JJDPA bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
  2. Educating all of our children should be a priority. The updated JJDPA ensures that children who are incarcerated receive credit for coursework they complete while in detention facilities, and that their academic records are transferred from their schools in a timely fashion. Learn more.
    Tweet Thanks to #JJDPA incarcerated youth can still get an education and transfer their academic records bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
  3. Skipping school shouldn’t land you in jail. In nearly half of all states, status offense behaviors such as skipping school and running away from home can result in incarceration. The updated JJDPA ensures that students instead get the services they need to help them succeed. Learn more.
    twitter In nearly half of all states, youth who commit status offenses can be incarcerated: bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
    twitter Skipping school shouldn't land you in jail. The #JJDPAmatters, ensuring students get services to help them succeed bit.ly/top10jjdpa
  4. There is no such thing as a child prostitute.  Human trafficking should be in a court sentence for the predators, not our children. Currently, children can be sent before the courts and even incarcerated if they fall prey to human traffickers. The updated JJDPA requires systems to screen young people to determine if they are victims or at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. If they are, the House-passed reauthorization requires that they be diverted to appropriate services and programs whenever possible. Learn more. 
    twitter Children should never be charged for #humantrafficking#JJDPA provides services, not jail time: bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters NoSuchThing
  5. We should be investing in what works. The bill places an emphasis on funding programs that are backed by evidence and proven to work. It also focuses on keeping our children in their communities instead of jails, something that has been proven to have lower social and financial costs. Learn more.
    twitter Invest in what works. #JJDPA is proven to keep our children and communities safe. bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
  6. Mental health needs require treatment, not incarceration. A disproportionate number of children who come into the juvenile justice system suffer from mental illness. The JJDPA ensures that children are screened for mental health needs by qualified professionals, and that individuals who are involved with the system receive training to ensure that children who are identified receive appropriate placements and services. Learn more

    twitter Mental health needs require treatment, not incarceration. Reauthorize the #JJDPAbit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
  7. Children should be treated fairly.  Youth of color are greatly over-represented in the juvenile justice system. The JJDPA gives clear direction to states to implement data-driven approaches to ensure fairness to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. The bill also promotes fairness by expanding youth access to counsel and by informing youth of opportunities to seal or expunge juvenile records once they have gotten their lives back on track. Learn more.

    twitter Youth of color are over-represented in jj system. #JJDPA helps reduce racial & ethnic disparities: bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
  8. Children do not belong in adult jails. Research shows that youth confined in adult jails and lock-ups are much more likely to re-offend upon release and while confined are at pronounced high risks for suffering assault and committing suicide.  The House-passed JJDPA bill keeps youth awaiting trial in criminal court out of adult lock-ups. Learn more.

    twitter Youth confined in adult jails are high risk for suicide & much more likely to re-offend upon release: bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
    twitter Children do not belong in adult jails. Reauthorize #JJDPA to keep youth out of adult lockup: bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
  9. Trauma matters.  We know that children who come in contact with the juvenile justice system have higher rates of exposure to trauma. The House-passed JJDPA encourages states to ensure that programs and practices designated to address the needs of system-involved youth are trauma-informed. Learn more.

    twitter Children in contact with jj system experience trauma at higher rate. #JJDPA helps address this: bit.ly/top10jjdpa #JJDPAMatters
  10. The system shouldn’t hurt kids.  Children should not be exposed to extended isolation or restraints while in juvenile detention or correctional facilities. The updated JJDPA calls for staff training, policies and procedures to eliminate the use of dangerous practices and unreasonable use of restraints and isolation through the use of alternative behavior management techniques. Learn more.

    twitter Why #JJDPAMatters? Because it strengthens policies to eliminate unreasonable restraint and isolation of youth: bit.ly/top10jjdpa

The JJDPA is a common-sense law with common-sense improvements that will help young people and improve public safety.

Take Action:

Call on your Senators to finish what they very nearly got done in December. It only takes a few minutes to lend your voice, we made it easy. 

 Reauthorize the JJDPA. It’s smart, it’s effective and it’s time.


JJDPA MATTERS BLOGThis post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction.

The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, is up for reauthorization. As legislative changes are being made to bring this law up-to-date, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA. To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.


This article was originally published on Jan. 26, 2016 and was reviewed and updated on March 19, 2018.