OJJDP is Failing Our Kids

October 23, 2017

A new report makes a compelling case for why Congress must reauthorize the nation’s landmark youth justice law.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is the principal federal program through which the federal government sets standards for juvenile justice systems at the state and local levels, providing direct funding for states, research, training, and technical assistance, and evaluation.

To be eligible for funds provided under the JJDPA, each state must comply with the law’s four core requirements: the deinstitutionalization of status offenders; the removal of youth from adult jails and lock-ups; sight and sound separation for youth placed in adult facilities; and, finally, states must assess and address the disproportionate contact of youth of color (also known as disproportionate minority contact or “DMC”) at all points in the justice system.

If a state fails to meet one of the core requirements, its funding must be reduced.

Unfortunately, a recent report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General (OIG) has revealed that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the federal agency charged with distributing federal funds through the JJDPA, has essentially provided a pass to states when it comes to the DMC core requirement. 

To be compliant with the DMC requirement, states must develop and implement a plan to address DMC according to a five-phase DMC Reduction Model.  According to the OIG, “each year between FY 2013 and FY 2016, OJJDP awarded all states the DMC portion of their JJDP Act formula grant allotment regardless of compliance with regular requirements.”[1]

This news is particularly troubling after OJJDP was called out for this exact problem over two years ago during a 2015 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The OIG report makes it even more evident how imperative it is for Congress to reauthorize the JJDPA, which is now a decade overdue for reauthorization.

Part of the problem with the DMC requirement is that there’s not enough data to adequately assess whether states are in compliance. For example, many parts of the country do not have accurate data on the number of Latino youth in the juvenile justice system. Rather, they count Latino youth as “White” or “Black.”

Further, the lack of regulations on this provision of the statute leads to inconsistency in determining whether states are compliant.

The latest version of the JDDPA (S. 860/H.R. 1809) would help to address some of the accountability and transparency issues that currently exist. The pending legislation creates a series of accountability provisions and requires the Comptroller General to conduct an evaluation of the performance of OJJDP.

Under the revised portion of Title II, it also expands the reporting requirements of the OJJDP Administrator by requiring more in-depth monitoring and reporting of the use of grant funds and compliance by grantees. It also increases accountability for states by requiring them to create and implement a work plan that includes measurable objectives to address racial and ethnic disparities.

Furthermore, reauthorization will help to ensure funding for compliance and programming continues so that states that are out of compliance will have some federal dollars to make a mid-course correction and ensure children, regardless of their ethnic and racial identities, are treated fairly. 

Since the last reauthorization in 2002, state formula grants have fallen by more than one-third, and funding for juvenile justice programs overall have dropped by more than 50 percent.  This is unacceptable. 

As highlighted in the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s report on the cost of compliance with the JJDPA, this means a larger proportion of federal funds go towards monitoring compliance, leaving less to implement evidence-based practices that are often more cost-effective and show better outcomes than youth incarceration. 

While the U.S. has significantly reduced the rate of incarcerated youth over the past decade, the racial and ethnic disparities for incarcerated youth have grown. In fact, Native American youth are three times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers, and black youth are five times more likely than white youth to be incarcerated. Latino youth are 65 percent more likely to be detained or committed than white youth.

While the legislation does not address all of the deficiencies with the DMC requirement, reauthorizing the JJDPA would be a step in the right direction to create more transparency within the OJJDP, hold states accountable, and protect the most vulnerable youth.

The House and Senate have each passed a version of the bill. Now all that remains is for the two versions to be reconciled before it can be passed and sent to the President for his signature.

Urge Congress to pass the JJDPA today. (This action alert makes it easy.)


[1]Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice, A Review of Allegations Referred by the Office of Special Counsel Concerning the Office of Justice Programs’ Administration of the Disproportionate Minority Contact Requirements of the Title II Part B Formula Grant Program at i-ii (Oct. 2017), available at https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2017/o1705.pdf#page=1.



Rachel Marshall is Federal Policy Counsel with the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ). Before joining CFYJ, Rachel spent a year serving as Law Clerk to the Honorable Julie H. Becker at the D.C. Superior Court.  Prior to her clerkship, Rachel spent nearly five years at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, first as a Legislative Assistant, then as a Legislative Policy Associate. More on Rachel.

This blog is part of the Act4JJ #JJDPAmatters blog series, featured on SparkAction.