With Senate Passage of Youth Justice Bill, Advocates Call on Congress to Reauthorize the JJDPA

Celia King
September 24, 2017

Congress is a step closer to a long-awaited update to the nation’s main juvenile justice law.

The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) – created in 1974 and last reauthorized in 2002 – sets nationwide standards for state juvenile justice programs and outlines four core protections for young people who come into contact with these systems.

On August 1, the Senate approved S. 860, legislation that was sponsored by Sen. Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The House passed similar legislation, H. 1809, on May 24. Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) headed up the push for House reauthorization.  

“Today we celebrate a victory for children. The bipartisan passage of this law will continue to support states’ ability to keep children and youth out of the justice system, protect those young people in custody, and advance evidence-based practices to help youth get back on track and keep communities safe,” said Marcy Mistrett, Co-chair of the Act4JJ Campaign and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice.  “We commend the leadership and co-sponsors for their strong bipartisan vision on juvenile justice reform and we look forward to continuing to work closely with Senate and House members toward final passage this year.”

A Look at the Two Bills

As originally enacted, the JJDPA required states to stop incarcerating young people for status offense behaviors such as running away from home or skipping school.

While similar, the Senate and House bills contain some differing language. As originally enacted, the JJDPA required states to stop incarcerating young people for status offense behaviors such as running away from home or skipping school. An exception to this rule was added in 1984 which permits states to securely detain youth when these behaviors are in violation of a valid court order. The House bill aims to phase this exception out. A similar provision was removed from the Senate bill at the objection of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

This, and other differences between the two bills, will have to be addressed and the House and Senate will have to agree on a joint version of bill before it can be signed into law.

“We remain committed to seeing an end to the incarceration of children who have engaged in low-level behaviors such as running away from home, or skipping school,” said Naomi Smoot,  Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and Co-chair of the Act4JJ Campaign.

Funding to Enable States to Enact Evidence-Based Reforms

The House, Senate, and Administration have also begun discussing Fiscal Year 2018 funding levels for programs established under the JJDPA. The House Commerce Justice Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee has put forward a bill that does not include funding for Title II or Title V of the JJDPA, the Act’s core funding areas which are used to carry out vital delinquency prevention and intervention programs. The Senate and the Administration have proposed modest increases for these programs.

The President’s budget proposal would provide$58 million for Title II, $58 million for youth mentoring programs and $17 million for Title V. The Senate proposal includes $60 million for Title II, $80 million for mentoring and $19 for Title V. Currently, Title II and Title V are funded at $55 million and $14.5 million respectively.

An agreement on Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations must be reached before the new federal year starts on Oct. 1. 

The Act4JJ Campaign is calling on Congress to work out the differences and pass this long-overdue reauthorization and ensure it is fully funded in the appropriations process.

  • Take Action: use the Act4JJ action alert to thank Congress for getting this far, and urge Members to reauthorize and fully fund the JJDPA. Our elected officials need to hear from us – and all you need is your address; with one click, we’ll connect you to your elected official and give you talking points for your email.

Share the action alert with this Tweet. Click to Tweet this

tweet thisACTION ALERT: the #JJDPAmatters for young people & communities. Urge Congress to get this done & funded: bit.ly/act4jjdpa


Celia King is a research intern with the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

SparkAction is a member of Act4JJ, and supports the campaign’s social media strategy.