The JJDPA (Still) Matters: Celebrating 40 Years of Reform

September 8, 2014

On Sept. 7, 2014, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA)—the nation’s main law governing state juvenile justice programs—turned 40. This week, advocates from across the country will be taking time to reflect on the importance of this landmark federal law and how it can be made even stronger.

The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2002, but few substantive changes were made at that time.   The law is now seven years overdue for review. Congress has the opportunity to propose a new, revised bill that reflects what has been learned over the past decade about what does and does not work to keep our communities safe and help young people get back on track to better futures.

Will This Be the Year JJDPA Is Reauthorized? It’s a question we are all asking (most notably in a recent  article on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange). Advocates remain hopeful that later this month Senator Whitehouse (D-RI), along with his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will introduce a reauthorization that strengthens the law and builds upon its original purpose to keep young people safe and improve outcomes.  This past June, the Committee held its first public hearing since 2007, signaling a renewed commitment to move a proposal forward this year.

At the beginning of the 113th Congress in 2013, the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) produced comprehensive Recommendations to Congress and Recommendations to the Administration that included key recommendations for JJDPA reauthorization.

Over the past year and half, members of the ACT4JJ Campaign, a national initiative to see the law renewed, worked in partnership with SparkAction to highlight why the JJDPA matters. Leaders in the field have been writing about the importance of the law, why after four decades it remains the bedrock juvenile justice policy, and what we have learned that can improve the law to better protect system-involved kids and promote safer, stronger communities.   

A Stronger Law Means Better, More Efficient State Programs

Take one look at the JJDPA Matters blog and it’s easy to see the role the law has played in supporting developmentally appropriate approaches to juvenile delinquency, identifying disparate treatment of youth of color, and  helping states to reshape their systems to be more equitable, effective, and cost-efficient.

But we also know there’s so much more that can be done to address the needs of girls and LGBTQ youth in the system, to respond to youth with mental health problems, to better provide community-based alternatives to incarceration, to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the system, and to protect all youth from the dangers of the adult system.

A Photographic Call to Action

To highlight the anniversary and the need for Congress to act, from September 8-12, the U.S. Senate will showcase the work of Richard Ross, photographer, researcher and professor of art.  Visitors to the Russell Senate Office Building will have the chance to get an up-close look at the conditions of confinement facing children who live in America’s juvenile detention facilities.  The photographer traveled the country for nearly 5 years, documenting the lives of children who were confined in nearly 200 juvenile detention centers, across roughly 31 states. The result was a series of eye opening photos that were included in his acclaimed 2012 book, Juvenile In Justice.

“40 for 40”- A Multimedia Storytelling Project

Later this week, SparkAction, the ACT4JJ Campaign, and the NJJDPC, with the help of local organizations from across the country, will roll out the “40 for 40” video project, a series of first-hand stories that speak to the important role of JJDPA in supporting just, effective state systems. 

It’s a big week for those of us who have worked to improve outcomes for all our youth.  There is much cause for celebration, but still much more work to be done.   As we take a moment to reflect on why the JJDPA still matters, we encourage others to join us in calling on Congress to act this year.  

What You Can Do

Jill Ward, former co-chair of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, is a federal policy consultant for the Campaign for Youth Justice.

This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. jjdpa matters icon

The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, 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.



Jill Ward





Locking up kids is an issue that has bothered me for some time. Hope to be a tiny part of changing how how kids who run afoul of a law/rule are dealt with.

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