JJDPA Reauthorization 2018

What’s Next for Youth Justice: Why the JJDPA Still Matters After Reauthorization Win

February 20, 2019

Photo: Act4JJ Members thanking Congress for taking action, December 2018

In the U.S., there is no single juvenile justice system – similar to education, each state runs its own system and set of programs. There is, however, a set of standards and requirements that states must meet, set by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, or JJDPA, the main federal law governing state youth justice programs.

When it first passed in 1974, the JJDPA established four essential protections and standards for the care of young people who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. (What was it like before the JJDPA? Check out the 2014 “40 for 40: 40 Stories for 40 Years of the JJDPA” video series for a glimpse.)

According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ)—a nationwide coalition of State Advisory Groups, organizations and advocates—the law itself had an ambitious agenda: to build a partnership between the federal government and the states through which the states would be inspired to reform their juvenile justice systems and the federal government would commit to providing resources to make that happen.

The end result: programs that better protect our nation’s children and youth, help them get their lives back on track, and improve public safety.

Despite its success, the JJDPA faced significant hurdles to Congressional reauthorization. The law expired in 2007, and although Congress continued to appropriate funds for its provisions, it was not until officially reauthorized until December 2018—more than 10 years after it expired. Every member of the U.S. House and Senate voted to pass the reauthorization, encouraged in part by years of coordinated advocacy from the more than 100 members of the National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition (led by CJJ, the Campaign for Youth Justice, the National Juvenile Justice Network and many others, with digital support from SparkAction), and state groups across the country.

The new legislation provides long-awaited updates to the Act and its core protections, and reflects the new knowledge that has developed in the field.

“Thirty years later, the achievements of [the JJPDA] are nothing less than remarkable. The JJDPA stands as one of the most successful standard-setting statutes at the federal level, and at its heart recognizes the value of citizen-driven efforts to prevent and stem delinquency,” according to the CJJ.

What Needs to Happen Now

Perhaps the hardest part of any policy reform movement is the implementation period – the law is passed, but the work is far from done.

"While we were thrilled to see the JJDPA reauthorized after 16 years, that was just the first step," says Rachel Marshall, Policy Counsel for the Campaign for Youth Justice. As for why it's so important for people to stay energized and engaged as we turn to implementation, Marshall says that, "Congress needs to know how important it is to the states for the JJDPA to be fully funded, and pressure needs to be put on state legislators to ensure state laws and policies are brought into compliance with the new requirements under the Act. Grassroots engagement is going to be the key to success as we enter this next phase.

Perhaps the hardest part of any policy reform movement is the implementation period – the law is passed, but the work is far from done.

So what will the impact of reauthorization be and what needs to happen next? Marcy Mistrett, CEO of Campaign for Youth Justice, affirms that it will take a village of support to implement a trauma-responsive system of care through state and federal partnerships. "This strong bipartisan passage had support from diverse stakeholders including judges, DAs, Law enforcement, advocates, Statewide Advisory Groups, providers, and youth themselves," she says, and it will require that all of these groups continue to work together to ensure future success.

"This bipartisan achievement was over a decade in the making and contains many new provisions that will improve children’s lives by promoting fairness, ensuring state compliance with safe treatment standards, and strengthening delinquency prevention measures," says Melissa Goemann, Senior Policy Counsel for the National Juvenile Justice Network. "Education of all stakeholders is key to the successful adoption of these reforms and we look forward to communication from OJJDP soon on clear next steps in moving implementation forward."

The Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign is asking supporters to continue to share what’s happening in states, as state programs enact updated provisions of the law. Here are just a few things we can all do in 2019 and beyond:

Learn More

Visit Act4JJ to learn more about the law.

Check out CJJ's Fact Sheets for states on the reathorized law:

Why the JJDPA Matters -- and Congress Must Act