Congress Passes Bipartisan JJDPA Bill to Help States Improve Youth Justice

December 13, 2018

You'll find a summary of what's in the newly passed JJDPA reauthorization bill, from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice here (PDF).

December 13, 2018 - Advocates for young people, justice and equity are celebrating a long-overdue Congressional reauthorization of the nation's main federal legislation covering juvenile justice, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) . Sixteen years after it was last updated and authorized by Congress, a bipartisan bill passed both chambers and now moves on to President Trump to sign into law.

The JJDPA sets standards and protections for young people in state justice systems, and helps states reform their juvenile justice approaches to better align with what data and emerging brain science show are better for kids and keep communities safer. (Jump to a short video to learn more about what the JJDPA does and why it matters.)

This reauthorization passed today, HR 6964 with Senate Amendment, updates the provisions in the law. Advocates say the final bill will help states prioritize interventions that keep young people from becoming involved with the justice system, reduce recidivism and help address disparities in the way children and youth of color are treated in state justice systems.

The Coalition for Juvenile Justice one of the lead groups with the Act4JJ Coalition, a broad national coalition that advocates for Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the JJDPA reports that in addition to updating and strengthening the JJDPA's four core protections for youth, the bill as passed changes the long-standing Disproportionate Minority Contact requirement to ensure that states address Racial and Ethnic Disparities within the justice system. It also ensures that young people awaiting trial in adult court will not be housed in adult facilities, and requires that credits earned while in detention transfer back to the student's community school.

"We are grateful for the commitment to children and tireless persistence of the JJDPA’s lead cosponsors, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN), and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), for getting this critical law reauthorized."
- Naomi Smoot, CJJ

“We are grateful for the commitment to children and tireless persistence of the JJDPA’s lead cosponsors, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN), and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), for getting this critical law reauthorized. We also want to recognize the leadership of Dr. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, for getting this bill across the finish line. When the Act is signed into law, it will ensure critical and long-awaited improvements to help states protect children and youth in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, while effectively addressing high-risk and delinquent behavior and improving community safety,” said Naomi Smoot, Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and co-chair of Act4JJ.

“Today we celebrate a hard-fought victory for children,” said Marcy Mistrett, co-chair of Act4JJ and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ). “The JJDPA has played a critical role in reducing youth incarceration, which is at its lowest rate in four decades. With the improvements made by the legislation, states can continue to invest in strategies that support children in their homes and communities.”

According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, the final bill promotes the use of alternatives to incarceration; supports the implementation of trauma-informed, evidence-based practices and calls for the elimination of dangerous practices in confinement, including eliminating the use of restraints on pregnant girls. It also improves conditions and educational services for incarcerated youth, focuses on the particular needs of special youth populations, such as trafficked youth and Tribal youth, increases local control in delinquency prevention programming, and increases accountability.

 (Image courtesy of CJJ)

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and the Council for a Strong America, an association of more than 5,000 law enforcement leaders across the country, today applauded Congress for passing a JJDPA bill that "strengthens previous law, reflects new research, and funds programs that can prevent juvenile offenders from becoming adult criminals."

In a statement, the group noted that "The legislation encourages states to prioritize the alternative interventions to custody that have a proven impact on reducing recidivism. Research shows placing low-to-moderate offenders in custody is not only costly, it is counterproductive to keeping youth away from future crime. One landmark study found that diverting juveniles to local, effective youth programs – as opposed to placing them in detention centers – reduced the rate of re-offending for 91 percent of juveniles facing custody."

In addition to the organizations working to pass the bill, grassroots organizers and community members, law enforcement, youth development experts and researchers have long called on Congress to update the JJDPA, which expired in 2007.

"We got here because hundreds of stakeholders from every corner of this country took the time to reach out and lift up how important this law is to protecting children and advancing public safety," said CFYJ's Marcy Mistrett. "Youth and families from Minnesota, California, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, D.C. New York, Washington State, and Iowa came to Capitiol Hill and openly discussed their experiences as survivors of violence and the justice system and Congress listened."

She added: "Members of Congress listened to police and judges, YMCA directors and Boystown Administrators, community-based providers and therapeutic foster care families, prosecutors and defense attorneys, researchers and advocates the list of groups supporting the reauthorization of this law cross party lines and politicsbecause they agree that children matter."

What's Next

As advocates celebrate a long-awaited win, many are already turning to 2019 and next steps to ensure state juvenile justice approaches continue to improve for young people.

The bill also includes a two-year reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA). Advocates say they plan to seek a longer-term reauthorization of RHYA, with programmatic updates. Nearly 62 percent of youth experiencing homelessness have been arrested and 44 percent have been detained, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice.

"While we are thrilled with today's victory, there is still much work left to be done on behalf of our youth," said CJJ's Naomi Smoot. "In the next Congress, we will focus our efforts on making sure the valid court order exception is finally phased out, and will support our allies in the runaway and homeless youth community to work towards much-needed programmatic updates on RHYA. We will also be working at the state and federal level to make sure states have the supports they need to implement the JJDPA's new requirements," said CJJ's Naomi Smoot.

Stay informed on the law, its implementation and what it means for kids, communities and states by following #JJDPAmatters and checking out Act4JJ.org.

Why the #JJDPAmatters