Why the #JJDPAMatters to PTA

JJDPAmattersThis 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/.

PTA and Juvenile Justice: Looking Forward

JuvenileJustice2In September, PTA will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation’s first comprehensive law designed to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. Juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has historically been one of PTA’s key public policy priorities and the association continues to advocate for improvements to the juvenile justice system in the United States. Read more about PTA’s more than 100 years of juvenile justice advocacy.

Looking Forward

In 2014, there is still improvement needed to the juvenile justice system in the United States. Loopholes left in the JJDPA, as well as amendments made to the law over the years, have weakened its protections and additional protections are needed in federal law. National PTA’s current official position statement on juvenile justice urges members at all levels  to monitor, support, and advocate for laws and programs in the following areas:

Juvenile Justice

  • Promote initiatives to address racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities in the juvenile justice system.
  • Encourage collaboration between law enforcement, the judicial system, and child welfare agencies.
  • Promote alternative dispute resolution techniques that provide a range of possible sanctions.
  • Prohibit youth who are charged with a serious crime from being tried in the adult court system unless there has been an opportunity for a judicial hearing and appeal.
  • Prohibit the incarceration of youth in adult facilities.
  • Assist youth leaving the juvenile justice system, and prevent their return.
  • Support research and data collection regarding youth offenses.

Today, as we have for over one hundred years, National PTA will continue to advocate for juvenile justice systems across the country that are safe and rehabilitative places for every child.

In September, look out for more information on the JJDPA in PTA’s One Voice Blog. Also check out:

PTA and Juvenile Justice: Over 100 Years of Advocacy

JuvenileJustice3In September, PTA will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation’s first comprehensive law designed to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. Juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has historically been one of PTA’s key public policy priorities and the association continues to advocate for improvements to the juvenile justice system in the United States.

A Separate Justice System for Children

In 1899, the first juvenile court in the nation was founded in Cook County, IL. That same year, PTA convention delegates passed the association’s first resolution addressing the way children are handled in the judicial system. The resolution called for nationwide juvenile court and probation systems in order to protect children from being incarcerated with adults. At that time, juveniles committing even minor offenses such as truancy would be held with adults, putting them in potential danger and in contact with more serious offenders.  The mission of a juvenile justice system centers around the recognition that children have the ability to change, and the systems therefore focus resources on rehabilitation over punishment to help youth entering the system leave as productive adults.

After the 1899 convention, PTA members established their first Committee on Juvenile Courts and Probation (renamed the Committee on Juvenile Protection) and advocated at all levels of the association for safe and fair treatment of children involved in the judicial system. By the early 1925, as a result of the efforts of PTA members and other child advocates, all but two states had a separate juvenile court system.

PTA’s Juvenile Justice Advocacy Continues

Several decades later, in 1957, National PTA published What PTA Members Should Know About Juvenile Delinquency: Guide for Action, a booklet offering concrete courses of action for PTAs and communities to undertake to improve the juvenile justice system. In 1961, PTA supported the Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act, signed by President Kennedy. The Act was the first piece of federal juvenile justice legislation and authorized pilot grants for anti-delinquency initiatives, training programs, and studies on juvenile delinquency.

The scope of the Act was limited and states still struggled to create a safe and supportive system for children. Research in the late 1960s revealed inconsistencies among juvenile justice systems nationwide. Children continued to be incarcerated for “status offenses”—noncriminal behaviors such as truancy, curfew violation, and running away from home—with some children still detained with adults. The National Council of Juvenile Court Judges (NCJCJ) approached National PTA in the 1960s, informing the association that “juvenile court judges were not qualified by training or experience to function effectively in the complicated area of guaranteeing justice to juveniles.” In response, PTA co-sponsored four regional conferences with NCJCJ to acquaint PTA leaders with juvenile courts and their procedures and to develop an advocacy strategy to help solve the problems of children in trouble. Then in 1973 PTA and NCJCJ co-published Juvenile Justice: A Handbook for Volunteers in Juvenile Court and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) and NCJCJ funded 25-state volunteers-in-court programs through the conduit of state PTA units.

In the absence of a comprehensive federal statute, the role of the federal government was limited and could have little impact on the way states dealt delinquent youth and youth at risk of delinquency. There was a nationwide call from advocacy organizations including PTA for expanded resources and consistent protections for children. In response, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) with wide bipartisan support in 1974 to improve outcomes for youth and community safety.

The impact of the JJDPA over the last forty years has been remarkable: thousands of children have been kept out of facilities for committing minor offenses and kept separate from adults in detention. The JJDPA changed the way states approached juvenile justice by establishing a federal-state partnership and providing them with resources to improve their systems. The JJDPA also contains requirements to protect every child in the juvenile justice system that states must follow in order to receive these resources. As a result, communities and families in the United States, as well as youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, are better served.

Early Education on the Rise

PreKSupport for the increased investment in the education of our earliest learners is at historic levels among our nation’s leaders. The research is clear: high-quality early education places our children on a path to academic and career success. This week in his annual State of the Union address, President Obama recognized this fact by expressing a renewed commitment to ensuring that every child has access to high-quality education, saying:

“One of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight.”

This legislative session, members of Congress also expressed this commitment by introducing the Strong Start for America’s Children Act in November. Sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Representatives George Miller (D-Calif.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), the legislation would increase access to and quality of programs for children from birth to kindergarten.  In just two short months, over 100 members of Congress from over 30 states and the District of Columbia have signed on as cosponsors and support continues to grow.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act consists of four key measures:

  1. Preschool for All: Establishes a federal-state partnership to provide access to high-quality prekindergarten programs for all low-income and moderate-income children.
  2. Early Learning Quality Partnerships: Creates partnerships between Early Head Start providers and local center-based and family child care to improve the quality of their infant and toddler care.
  3. Child Care Improvement: Provides support for training, licensure, and compensation of child care providers and for the development of improved health and safety standards of federally-subsidized child care.
  4. Maternal, Infant, and early Childhood Home Visiting Programs: Encourages increased funding for evidence-based, voluntary home visitation programs to promote maternal and child health.

National PTA has supported early childhood education since its inception. We advocate for federal and state incentives for high-quality child care and preschool programs from birth to age five. These programs should be affordable and accessible; developmentally appropriate; coordinated at all levels (federal, state and local); and characterized by high standards for teaching, training, health and safety. National PTA also strongly encourages the inclusion of a family engagement component in all early childhood programs.

In 2014, National PTA is making the Strong Start for America’s Children Act one of our top legislative priorities. We are excited by the recent energy and dedication demonstrated by the President and members of Congress to increasing early learning opportunities. Now, we must leverage this historic support. Here’s how you can join National PTA’s efforts to strengthen early childhood education programs for every child:

  1. Contact your Members of Congress: Reach out to your representatives and senators and urge them to show their support for early childhood education by cosponsoring the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (H.R. 3461/S.1697).
  2. Join our PTA Take Action Network: Stay informed of National PTA’s advocacy efforts by signing up to receive our action alerts. These alerts will notify you when Congress is acting on issues important to children and families and will give you the opportunity to contact your leaders to make your voice heard.

It is important that Congress hear from parents on this issue! Please take action and let your member of Congress know why you think that investing in the education of our earliest learners is critical to our future.

School Safety & Gun Violence Prevention: Year in Review

National PTA believes that school safety is a critical priority for all parents, educators, students, and community members. In our federal advocacy efforts, we promote legislative measures to protect children and youth from violence, particularly incidents that involve firearms.

In 2013, we strengthened our commitment to ensuring that schools are safe for our children. We prioritized school safety and gun violence prevention in our advocacy agenda and worked with our partners at the U.S. Department of Education in a series of school safety town halls to support community dialogue. Thousands of our members took action to urge their lawmakers to enact school safety policies and common sense gun violence prevention measures.

Congress2As 2013 draws to a close, where is Congress on school safety?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy last year, there was a nationwide cry for stronger school safety legislation. In response, the 113th Congress introduced a number of bills aimed at reducing gun violence and creating avenues to school safety, including measures to increase access to mental health services and supports, reenact a federal ban on military-style assault weapons, and strengthen criminal background checks on firearm purchases. National PTA is disappointed to say that Congress failed to pass any of these measures in 2013 despite widespread public support and bipartisan endorsement of some of the proposals.

What Now? Looking ahead to 2014

With each passing day, gun-related injuries and violence in our schools continue. In the year since Sandy Hook, there have been over 11,000 gun related deaths in the United States, over 700 of which were children and teens.

As child advocates, we must call upon our national, state, and local leaders to make meaningful changes to ensure a safe learning environment for all children. Here’s how you can join National PTA in advocating for the safety of our children:

  1. Contact your Members of Congress: Reach out to your representatives and senators and urge them to make the elimination of violence in schools a top priority in 2014.
  2. Act locally: Your advocacy efforts should not stop with Congress. Does your local school district have an effective safety plan in place? Check out the PTA’s 10 Things You Can Do to Prevent Violence in Your School Community and our school safety advocacy guide which contains helpful resources for PTA members to advocate for school safety solutions.

In 2014, National PTA will renew our efforts to secure policies to reduce gun violence and promote school safety, including advocating for increased access to quality mental health services. School safety and violence prevention will be a key priority of our 2014 legislative agenda. To stay informed, join our Takes Action network and sign up to receive our action alerts. These alerts will notify you when Congress is acting on issues important to students and families and will give you the opportunity to contact your leaders to make your voice heard. We must not let Congress’s failure to act in 2013 affect the safety of our children.

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