Letter: Tell Senate to Reauthorize JJDPA
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March ___, 2010
The Honorable [Senator’s Name]
United States Senate
[Room number] Senate [Dirksen/Hart/Russell] Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator [Last Name]:
On behalf of [insert organization’s name here], I am writing to express our strong support for S. 678, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009, and to request that you co-sponsor this legislation.
S. 678 strengthens and updates critical components of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has been protecting youth across the nation for 35 years. The legislation was introduced on March 24, 2009 by Senators Leahy, Specter, Kohl, and Durbin and currently has 8 bipartisan co-sponsors. On Thursday, December 17, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 678 out of Committee with bipartisan support. S. 678 makes meaningful improvements that expand several of the core protections and other areas contained in the bill:
- Strengthening the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) core protection: Research has documented that youth of color are disproportionately over-represented and subject to more punitive sanctions than similarly-charged/situated white youth at all levels of the juvenile justice system. S. 678 gives guidance to States on complying with the DMC core protection by listing specific steps toward reducing DMC, including identifying and analyzing key decision points to determine where disparities exist, collecting data, developing a work plan, and publicly reporting such efforts.
- Strengthening the Jail Removal and Sight and Sound core protection: Research shows youth confined in adult jails and lock-ups are more likely to re-offend upon release and, while confined, are at pronounced high risk of suffering assault and committing suicide. S. 678 extends the jail removal and sight and sound core requirements to keep youth awaiting trial in criminal court out of adult lock-ups and to ensure sight and sound separation in the limited circumstances where they are held in adult facilities.
- Allows States to continue to serve youth tried in adult court in juvenile facilities without jeopardizing federal funding: S. 678 would permit States to continue to house and rehabilitate youth convicted in adult court in juvenile facilities until they reach a State’s extended juvenile jurisdiction age.
- Strengthening the deinstitutionalization of status offenders (DSO) core protection: Under current law, non-delinquent status offenders, such as children who are truant, runaway or violate curfew may be held in juvenile lock-ups under the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception, which allows judges to issue detention orders. The practice persists despite evidence that securely detaining status offenders is harmful to pro-social development and is costly. S. 678 requires States that still permit the use of the exception to phase-out use of the VCO within three years, and allows States in need to apply for one-year hardship extensions through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
Overall juvenile justice system improvements:
- Improves conditions of confinement in juvenile facilities: S. 678 calls for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator to report annually on State data regarding the uses of isolation and restraints in juvenile detention and corrections facilities, and encourages training of facility staff to eliminate dangerous practices.
- Provides comprehensive services and supports for youth: S. 678 promotes alternatives to detention, improves screening, diversion, assessment, and treatment for mental health and substance abuse needs, enhances child welfare and juvenile justice system integration, supports effective assistance of juvenile counsel, and improves case management and transitional services for youth upon re-entry.
Support for states:
- Increases States’ ability to comply with the core requirements: S. 678 offers additional technical assistance to States and authorizes Improvement Grants to States that seek to regain compliance with one or more of the core requirements.
- Creates incentive grants: S. 678 creates a new incentive grant program for States that wish to employ empirically-sound prevention and intervention approaches and improve their work in the areas of workforce development, and diversion for youth with mental health and substance abuse needs.
- Restores and strengthens the role of OJJDP: S. 678 provides guidance about specific research, technical assistance, and training efforts to be conducted in a manner that benefits States and communities, nationwide.
- Sets more appropriate authorization levels for Title II and Title V: S. 678 provides States with the resources needed to achieve and sustain compliance with the core requirements of the JJDPA and take meaningful steps to improve juvenile justice systems and prevent delinquency and violence.
Preserves and guards the community-connected prevention, youth development and rehabilitation emphases of the JJDPA:
- Keeps the focus on prevention and intervention: S. 678 does not introduce unnecessary and punitive approaches to delinquency prevention and intervention. We trust that the Senate will do everything within their power to preserve the prevention focus of the JJDPA by guarding against any amendments that would link the JJDPA to provisions and/or other forms of federal legislation that introduce new federal categories of juvenile crime, new or enhanced federal penalties affecting juveniles, or incentives for States to advance new or enhanced penalties for juveniles.
In light of the list above, we urge you to become a co-sponsor of S. 678 to recognize this bill as a significant step towards improving the JJDPA and offer ourselves as a resource as the bill moves through the legislative process. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of youth across the country.
[Title and Organization]