JJDPA Passes House and Senate, but Still Long Road to Go

On August 1st the Senate approved S860, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Reauthorization Act of 2017, which strengthens and updates the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 2002.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was first signed into law on September 7, 1974; it was last reauthorized in 2002 and is now nearly a decade overdue for reauthorization. The law remains the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of children in the youth justice system and provides direction and support for state youth justice system improvements.

One of the core requirements of the JJDPA is to “address” the disproportionate contact that youth of color have with the justice system.  The current language of the JJDPA is over-vague and leaves state and local officials without clear guidance for reducing racial and ethnic disparities.  S860 provides clear direction to States and localities to plan and implement a data-driven approach to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and to set measurable objectives for policy change.

On May 24th the House of Representatives passed a similar bill, HR1809, “The Juvenile Justice and Reform Act of 2017.” The House and Senate will now have to come to an agreement on the provisions found in the two bills before it can be signed into law. The bills aim to strengthen existing law to reflect new research and fund programs that help youth stay out of and successfully exit the youth justice system and to encourage states to use interventions that have a proven impact on reducing recidivism as an alternative to incarceration.

James Bell, President of the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI) stated, “This marks the beginning of a legislative process that hopefully improves the administration of justice for young people.  The two bills afford Congress the opportunity to provide basic guidelines to youth justice practitioners for interventions and services that are age-appropriate and equitable.”

While the current Senate and House bills are similar they contain some differing language. When originally enacted in 1974, the JJDPA required states to stop incarcerating children for status offenses, laws concerning behaviors such as running away from home or skipping school that only apply to children. In 1984 an exception to this rule was added which permits states to securely detain youth when these behaviors are in violation of a valid court order. The House bill has removed this exception. A similar statement was removed from the Senate bill following an objection from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

BI strongly supports the reauthorization of the JJDPA as an essential step forward in promoting equity and improving public safety in communities across the country.