Fund What Matters: the Future of Justice

November 25, 2014

In recent years, several states have made great progress in creating fairer, more effective juvenile justice systems.  Many of these changes have happened over time and with little media coverage—in many cases, few residents of these states are aware of the extent and impact of these improvements.

Even less well-known is the role that federal funding plays in states’ ability to strengthen systems in a way that enables young people to get back on track and keeps communities safer.

Despite a universally recognized need to further reduce delinquency and improve juvenile justice systems, federal appropriations for key federal juvenile justice programs have suffered in the last decade.  Federal funding available to support implementation of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)—the nation’s main juvenile justice law—and other state and local reforms has steadily declined by 83 percent from 1999 to 2010,  and the appropriations caps contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 have only accelerated the scope of the cuts. 

Last week, the Act-4-JJ Campaign submitted a letter to President Obama to encourage adequate funding for juvenile justice in his fiscal year 2016 budget recommendations, which he is expected to release early next year.  Our recommendations to the President underscore how important the federal investments in state juvenile justice efforts are to protecting youth and promoting community safety.

It is critical that President Obama prioritize juvenile justice reform as part of his commitment to building a healthier nation. 

While not nearly enough to cover the cuts of the last 15 years, we are asking the President to restore the JJDPA Title II State Formula Grants program to at least $80 million.  These funds support state systems that protect children from the dangers of adult jails and lockups; keep status offenders out of locked custody; and address the racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.  In addition, we made recommendations to the Administration to fund delinquency prevention, juvenile accountability, and community-based violence prevention efforts.  

Act-4-JJ also supports President Obama’s efforts to focus on the needs of system-involved girls and to reduce youth incarceration through the Juvenile Justice Realignment Incentive Grants, which promote community based alternatives to youth detention.

If the Administration and Congress do not act, the result will not be a “steady state”— rather, it will mean a de facto decline in the funding for and impact of the nation’s primary law governing juvenile justice approaches across the country.

The JJDPA is more than seven years overdue for reauthorization. As a result, funding has declined more than 50 percent, including an 80 percent decrease in Title V funding—the only federal program that provides delinquency prevention funding at a local level.  States have used Title V funds to support critical programs that are proven to keep youth and communities safer. Counties in Tennessee, for example, invested Title V funds in an afterschool program that led to a significant drop in school offenses among participants, and helped 97 percent of the kindergartners involved enter school more prepared. Kansas used funds for girls’ empowerment, teen court and conflict resolution programs, with more than 79 percent  of participants demonstrating positive long-term changes in behavior. This funding matters to local communities.

Congress has also zeroed out the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG) funding: money that law enforcement used to increase diversion programs, and other jurisdictions used reduce youth recidivism. 

In order for states and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to continue their steadfast work on protecting vulnerable children, reducing over-reliance on incarceration, and implementing programs that we know work— JJDPA needs to be funded and renewed this year.

After the recent elections, it is critical that President Obama prioritize juvenile justice reform as part of his commitment to building a healthier nation.  Criminal justice reform is one area where bipartisan support in the next Congress is possible, and it is imperative that juvenile justice is part of that effort.

Marcy Mistrettt
Marcy Mistrett is the President & CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice and co-chair of the ACT4JJ Campaign.

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This 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, turned 40 in September 2014. To mark this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA throughout the fall and winter. To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.


Marcy Mistrett