This week PTA celebrates the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act (JJDPA). Leading up to this date, we’ve been writing about PTA’s history of advocacy and positions on the issue of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. Today as we celebrate the anniversary, it’s important to understand the impact of this law on our children and why PTA continues to prioritize its improvement in our Federal Public Policy Agenda each year.
PTA members work in our schools and communities to make every child’s potential a reality by advocating for policies that further this mission. The JJDPA is one such policy. The funding programs and protections established in the law create a framework for a juvenile justice system that helps to ensure that youth who come into contact with the system have not lost their chance to become successful adults.
What impact does the JJDPA have on children?
The JJDPA helps to keep children in the juvenile justice system safe. The law establishes a federal-state partnership, providing states with funding to implement juvenile justice prevention and intervention programs. To receive this funding, states must comply with what are known as the JJDPA’s “core requirements,” minimum standards of safety and equitable treatment for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
Two such requirements—known as the “Jail Removal” and “Sight and Sound Separation” requirements—remove children from adult jails and lockups. Under the JJDPA, children are kept out of sight and sound of adult inmates. Before the JJDPA instituted these two requirements, children could be housed with adults, putting them at risk for psychological and physical abuse. Children held in adult facilities are more likely to commit suicide, be assaulted by staff or fellow inmates and be attacked with a weapon. Over the last forty years, the JJDPA’s protections have kept thousands of children every year away from these dangerous situations. Instead, these children are placed in juvenile facilities where they are provided with educational and rehabilitative services to strengthen their chances of success.
The JJDPA helps to keep children who commit minor offenses, such as skipping school, out of juvenile detention facilities. The JJDPA requires that youth who commit status offenses—conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, such as skipping school, breaking curfew, or running away from home—are kept out of secure detention/correctional facilities.
Judge Joan Byer, a family court judge in Kentucky, writes in detail about why status offenses do not deserve detention in an earlier piece reposted in the Our Children blog. Status offenses are often the result of an unmet child or family need that can be best addressed through family, school, and community-based services. Detaining children who commit status offenses removes them from their families and leads to children failing to return to school after release and future delinquency. Detention also allows them to come into contact with more serious offenders, putting them in danger and exposing them to negative influences. The JJDPA’s Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) core requirement helps thousands of children each year receive community-based services such as day treatment or residential home treatment, counseling, mentoring, family support and alternative education. These family and community-based alternatives are safer for children and less expensive to tax payers. Most importantly, the DSO protection works to create a system that does not damage a child’s chance to succeed but instead improves opportunities to reach his or her full potential.
The JJDPA helps to improve outcomes for youth of color by working to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. The Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) requirement of the JJDPA requires states to take measures to address the high overrepresentation of children from racial and ethnic minorities who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. The DMC core requirement seeks to guarantee a just system that provides equal treatment for every child in the United States.
To read more about how the DMC core requirement impacts youth of color, check out a piece reposted earlier this year on the One Voice blog by Anna Wong from the W. Haywood Burns Institute.
The Future of the JJDPA
The #JJDPAMatters to PTA. As a result of the JJDPA, the children who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system over the last forty years have been better served. However, the current law does not go far enough and changes must be made in order for its protections to be fully realized:
- The Jail Removal and Sight and Sound Separation protections do not extend to children tried or convicted in the adult criminal justice system, a practice allowed in every state;
- The DSO core requirement was weakened by an amendment to the JJDPA allowing courts to detain status offenders in secure facilities for violating a court order; and
- The DMC core requirement as currently outlined in the JJDPA is vaguely worded, providing states without clear guidance on how to implement the requirement.
The JJDPA is long overdue for reauthorization, presenting an opportunity to close these loopholes in the law’s protections. In this session of Congress, PTA and our partners are urging lawmakers to fully reauthorize the JJDPA, creating a juvenile justice system that works to help every child realize his or her full potential and become a productive member of society.
To stay informed on the latest happenings on the JJDPA and other happenings on Capitol Hill, join the PTA Takes Action Network at www.pta.org/takesaction/.