As parents, we know sometimes our children may not make the best decisions, which is why second chances are important to give to children as they learn and grow into adulthood. However, for far too many youth, one mistake may drastically change their futures.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that police make over 600,000 juvenile arrests each year and juvenile courts handle roughly 1.2 million cases resulting in 55,000 children placed in secure confinement for non-violent offenses, such as breaking curfew.
In addition, a recent report—2016 Citizen-Readiness Index—further analyzes the state of our nation’s youth. The report finds that a large portion of our youth are unprepared to positively contribute to our nation and that a quarter of young adults in America have an arrest record that impacts their education, postsecondary and career opportunities.
Parents and community leaders have been advocating for improvements to juvenile justice laws nationwide for decades, yet we still need more opportunities for our most vulnerable youth.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives took a step forward to improving our juvenile justice system by passing the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (H.R. 5963), a bill that would reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).
National PTA and 40 state and national organizations signed on to the Act 4 Juvenile Justice Coalition letter in support of H.R. 5963. The bill would improve federal laws to prevent children from entering the juvenile justice system, protect youth currently in the system and provide greater opportunities for at-risk youth leaving the system so that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Specifically, the bill would improve the current law to:
- Incorporate more family and community-based services and alternatives to incarceration
- Keep detained youth separate from adults while they are awaiting trial
- Phase out exemptions that allow youth detainment for minor offenses
- Ensure the continuity of children’s education while detained and a smooth transition back into the classroom
- Encourage states to use data and implement strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among youth in the juvenile justice system
National PTA supported a similar JJDPA reauthorization bill (S. 1169) that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2015. The association is encouraged by the bipartisanship of both chambers to introduce a JJDPA reauthorization bill this Congress. National PTA urges the Senate and House to work together to ensure a JJDPA reauthorization bill is signed into law before the end of the year.
View National PTA’s press release applauding the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (H.R. 5963) and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates and information on the reauthorization of JJDPA.
Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.