Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act & Mental Health - Giving Youth a Second Chance
What is the underlying rationale of state juvenile justice
systems? Is it to punish youths who commit crimes or to rehabilitate
youths to give them a second chance? Although this perpetual debate
plays out similarly for incarcerated adults, what is unique to the
juvenile detention discussion is the people who are most affected:
youths. Yes, they are supposed to be corrected when they do something
wrong but, isn't it also important to invest in them and give them the
opportunity to mature and grow into adulthood? When considering factors
that contribute to juvenile delinquency, such as mental health and substance use
problems, negative environmental influences, or complicated family
situations, the role of state juvenile justice systems and community
providers becomes clear - to prevent juvenile delinquency whenever
possible and to rehabilitate youths who are in the system to give them
the best chance to succeed.
Studies have indicated that 70 percent or more of youths who are securely detained in a juvenile justice facility have a mental health or related disorder; in contrast, approximately 20 percent of the general youth population have such a disorder. According to a public opinion poll focusing on juvenile delinquency and mental illness, a majority of people polled viewed alternatives to incarceration - such as community mental health treatment, mentoring, and vocational training - as effective ways to rehabilitate youths. In addition, 8 out of 10 polled strongly favored taking away some of the money states spend on incarcerating youth offenders and using that funding to pay for counseling, education, and job training.
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act -
In response to widespread abuses in state and local juvenile justice facilities, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 1974. The JJDPA serves as the primary federal funding stream for juvenile justice services to states and territories that voluntarily ascribe to its core requirements. Among other requirements, the JJDPA established rules to ensure that juveniles who commit minor or "status offenses" are not held in secure confinement, protect juveniles from being incarcerated in adult jails or lock-ups for extended periods of time, address the disproportionate contact youths of color have with the juvenile justice continuum, and other protections. Through these core requirements, the JJDPA is meant to foster services and supports to prevent juvenile delinquency and, in cases in which youths enter the juvenile justice system, protections to ensure that they are not unduly exposed to harm or trauma while incarcerated.
According to a 2008 survey of the states conducted by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 55 of 56 states and territories voluntarily participate in the JJDPA and 85 percent are compliant with all JJDPA core requirements. One of the true benefits of the JJDPA is the federal/state partnership it creates via the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; as a result, states and territories greatly value the opportunity to receive technical assistance and share successful practices with each other and the OJJDP. Through small investments in successful programs, the federal government is able to offer the opportunity for states and territories to replicate successful programs, the result of which is hoped to be an overall improvement in the way juvenile justice systems respond to youths' unique needs.
Although the principles of the JJDPA are laudable and have created key protections for youths, implementation challenges persist - funding limitations, lack of appropriate staffing and training, and other challenges prevent the realization of the original vision of the JJDPA.
Advocates of mental healthcare view reauthorization of the JJDPA as an opportunity to address these challenges. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was most recently reauthorized in 2004, and efforts are underway to reauthorize the act in the 111th Congress. After being introduced in the Senate, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act (S. 678) was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, thus sending the bill to the Senate floor for consideration. Although a companion bill has yet to be introduced in the House of Representatives, efforts are underway to push for Senate passage in 2010 to bolster efforts in the House.
Among several improvements, S. 678 takes important steps to strengthen the ability of state and territorial juvenile justice systems to meet the substance use and mental health needs of youths by incorporating the following:
* New incentives for improving mental health and addiction disorder screenings, treatment, diversion, and re-entry services.
* An increase of federal authorizations for core juvenile justice programs.
* Reinforcements of the relationship between OJJDP and participating states and territories to facilitate increased compliance with the core requirements of the JJDPA.
To achieve reauthorization of the JJDPA in 2010, an array of advocacy organizations are participating in a national coalition effort. Through this coalition, juvenile justice, child welfare and youth development organizations present a unified message in support of enhancing the JJDPA.
Youths who commit crimes often face an uphill battle to improve their lives, and it is our job as community providers, advocates, and members of our communities to guide them in a manner that protects them from danger and gives them the opportunity to achieve more. Although reauthorization of the JJDPA won't resolve all challenges in serving justice-involved youths, it will certainly get us closer.
Linda Rosenberg is the president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. TNC is the unifying voice of America's community-based mental and behavioral health organizations, lobbying for mental healthcare reform and treatment for mental illness.Lean more at www.thenationalcouncil.org.