Letter: Tell House to Reauthorize JJDPA
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March ___, 2010
The Honorable [Representative’s Name]
United States House of Representatives
[Room number] [Rayburn/Longworth]
Washington, DC 20510
Dear [Congressman/Congresswoman] [Last Name]:
On behalf of [insert organization’s name here], I am writing to express our strong support for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act (JJDPA).
For over 35 years, the JJDPA has been providing crucial protections for youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system. These protections include keeping youth in the juvenile justice system out of adult jails and lock-ups, ensuring that non-delinquent status offenders (such as children who are truant, runaway or violate curfew laws) are not placed in locked juvenile detention or corrections facilities, and addressing the disproportionate representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.
Please ensure a JJDPA reauthorization bill is introduced and passed through the House this year with the following provisions:
- 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. The reauthorization of the JJDPA should provide 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. The reauthorization of the JJDPA should 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. The reauthorization of the JJDPA should 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. Previous interpretation and application of the law penalized States for utilizing these more appropriate and humane placements for youth.
- 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, alcohol and tobacco laws, 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. The reauthorization of the JJDPA should eliminate VCO exception.
- Improve conditions of confinement in juvenile facilities. The Reauthorization of the JJDPA should protect youth locked up in juvenile detention and corrections facilities by encouraging States to improve how youth are treated in these facilities, including eliminating the use of dangerous practices, such as hog-tying youth, choking youth, and administering psychotropic medications to youth for purposes of coercion, punishment or convenience of staff; and
- Incentive Best Practices. The Reauthorization of the JJDPA should offer incentives to States to continue to work toward best practices in the juvenile justice and go above and beyond the JJDPA requirements.
It is urgent that the JJDPA be reauthorized this year so that young people can continue to be protected by the JJDPA. We appreciate your attention to this issue and look forward to working with you on advancing a strong JJDPA reauthorization bill including the provisions listed above.
Thank you for your consideration.