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Home > Advocacy > CWLA 2008 Children's Legislative Agenda > The Juvenile & Delinquency Prevention Act


CWLA 2008 Children's Legislative Agenda

The Juvenile & Delinquency Prevention Act

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  • Reauthorize and strengthen the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).


The JJDPA was originally enacted in 1974. The legislation governs the federal administration of the juvenile justice system, including requiring states adhere to core protections for youth coming in contact with law enforcement, and promoting delinquency prevention, rehabilitation, and best practices.

The JJDPA, most recently reauthorized in 2002 with bipartisan support, provides for a juvenile justice planning and advisory system spanning all states, territories, and the District of Columbia. It designates federal funding for delinquency prevention and improvements in state and local juvenile justice programs and operation of a federal agency, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), in the Department of Justice. OJJDP oversees training, technical assistance, model programs, and research and evaluation to support state and local efforts.

The legislation is based on a broad consensus that children, youth, and families involved with the juvenile and criminal courts should be guarded by federal standards for care and custody, while also upholding the interests of community safety and the prevention of victimization. All states, territories, and the District of Columbia must comply with the following core protections: deinstitutionalization of status offenders, jail removal, sight and sound separation of juveniles from adults, and disproportionate minority contact.

Improvements Needed in Reauthorization

The 110th Congress will consider the reauthorization of the JJDPA. In recent years, leading congressional proposals have been focused on lengthening sentences, increasing penalties, and reducing protections for offending youth.

The new Congress needs to take a fresh approach that emphasizes more positive and strength-based strategies. Successful prevention initiatives, early intervention programs, rehabilitative strategies, gender specific services for prevention and intervention, alternatives to incarceration, and other similar approaches need to be at the forefront of the juvenile justice policy agenda in the 110th Congress.

The Child Welfare-Juvenile Justice Connection
A growing body of research undeniably establishes the connection between all forms of child maltreatment-neglect, physical, and sexual abuse-and subsequent involvement in delinquency and the juvenile justice system. Research confirms these maltreated youth frequently struggle in the education arena, particularly with mental health and substance abuse issues-all of which are often preludes to crime. The 2002 reauthorized JJDP Act recognized this critical issue and included provisions calling for the establishment of policies and systems to incorporate relevant child protective services records into juvenile justice records for purposes of establishing and implementing treatment plans for juvenile offenders. Unfortunately, real or perceived barriers that include difficulties with data collection, information management, federal and state confidentiality statutes, agency mandates, and fiscal strictures often preclude these efforts.

Congress must require state and local jurisdictions comprehensively examine these obstacles and develop improved protocols, policies, and procedures that ensure better coordination between the child welfare, child protection, and juvenile justice systems. Congress must require the Department of Justice 1) provide targeted consultation and technical assistance to state and local jurisdictions that address these issues, and 2) expand data collection and research related to maltreated youth involved in the juvenile justice system to effectively implement the provisions of Section 223(a)(26) and (27) of the 2002 JJDP Act. These new requirements must be supported with adequate resources for effective implementation.

The new legislation should include language to build on initiatives to better coordinate and integrate juvenile justice and child welfare systems; require a comprehensive examination of issues impacting cooperation between these systems, including data collection, information sharing, statutory mandates, and fiscal resources; and provide adequate resources for implementation.

Core Protections
The JJDPA includes four core protections for youth who come in contact with law enforcement. These protections include the deinstitutionalization of status offenders, jail removal, sight and sound separation from adults in those instances when juveniles are incarcerated in adult facilities, and addressing disproportionate minority contact. These core protections should be strengthened to ensure fair and proper treatment of youth.

The provision on disproportionate minority contact, in particular, should be strengthened to specifically and intentionally reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Incentives and bonuses should be offered to states for reducing disproportionality. Similarly, the legislation should include requirements for states to develop and adopt policies to prohibit disparate treatment of girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in placement and treatment, and to establish specific services to ensure these youth have access to the full range of health and mental health services, treatment for physical or sexual assault and abuse, and the benefit of effective strategies for prevention and diversions.

Much greater emphasis must be placed on removing juveniles from detention facilities, especially adult jails and lockups. Alternatives to incarceration must be expanded and made more widely available in communities nationwide. States should be prohibited from placing youth, who have been prosecuted as adults in criminal court, in adult inmate facilities while they are awaiting trial on criminal charges.

The transfer of young offenders to adult court has significantly increased in recent years. This practice has failed to make communities safer. New legislation, therefore, is needed to significantly reduce the transfer of offenders from juvenile to adult court.

Community Support Services
The legislation needs to develop and pass new language focused on issues related to community supports for youth, including expanding mental health and substance abuse treatment, and strengthening community re-entry efforts.

Mental health, substance abuse, and behavioral health issues are often root causes of youth involvement with law enforcement. Community protection agencies must work together with health and human services professionals on prevention programs, early intervention activities, and other support and treatment initiatives.

Perhaps the single most effective set of strategies for turning young people away from crime and problematic behavior and towards successful adulthood is through proven effective prevention programs. Research studies show that when young people are provided safe, structured, supervised and healthy activities in which to participate, they are less likely to become involved in the high risk, unhealthy behaviors that can derail positive development.

Congress must significantly expand federal support for delinquency prevention. Reauthorizing the JJDPA is an opportunity to do this. The legislation must enhance federal support for evidence-based, effective prevention strategies as a strategy to be employed by juvenile justice agencies.


Federal funding has been woefully inadequate to sufficiently support the JJDPA and youth in turning their lives away from problematic behavior. In fact, between FY 2002 and FY 2007, federal funds were cut by more than 40%. Funding was partly restored in FY 2008 as it was increased by 12%. Juvenile justice programs such as the Title V Delinquency Prevention Grant program and the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program have experienced similar drastic cuts in funding.

Significant increases are necessary to better meet the service and program needs of vulnerable youth. Substantially increased funding is also required for crime prevention, rehabilitation, and alternatives to incarceration as effective strategies to reduce youth crime.

Key Facts

  • In 2006, 1.6 million children under age 18 were arrested, a 15% increase from 1.4 million arrests in 2005. 1

  • A 2003 census of juvenile offenders showed 96,655 children in juvenile correction facilities.2

  • Low family income has repeatedly been associated with self-reported teen violence and convictions for violent offenses. 3

  • Up to 29% of dependent children engage in delinquent behavior. The risk of delinquency is approximately 47% higher for victims of child abuse and neglect. Dependent youth are arrested more often and begin offending at an earlier age, compared with nondependent youth. 4

  • Nearly one-third (31%) of all violent crime committed by juvenile offenders occurs between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. In comparison, 27% of all violent crime committed by adult offenders occurs between 8 p.m. and midnight. 5

  • Youth of color represent only one-third of the American adolescent population, yet they represent two-thirds of youth in juvenile facilities. 6


  1. U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Information Services Division. (2007). 2006 Crime in the United States. Available online. Clarksburg, WV: Author. back
  2. Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., & Kang, W. (2005). Census of juveniles in residential placement databook. Available online. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. back
  3. Henry, B., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T.E., & Silva, P.A. (1996). Temperament and family predictors of violent and non-violent criminal convictions: Age 3 to age 18. Developmental Psychology, 32, 614-623; Farrington, D.P. (1995). Key issues in the integration of motivational and opportunity-reducing crime prevention strategies. In, Integrating crime prevention strategies: Propensity and opportunity (pp. 333-357). National Council for Crime Prevention. back
  4. Herz, D., Krinsky, M., & Ryan, J. (2006). Improving system responses to crossover youth: The role of research and practice partnerships. The Link, 5(1). back
  5. Statistical briefing book: Juveniles as offenders. (2006). Available online. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. back
  6. Building Blocks For Youth. (2005, October). No turning back: Promising approaches to reducing racial and ethnic disparities affecting youth of color in the justice system. Washington, DC: Author. back

CWLA Contact

Tim Briceland-Betts

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