Shaquita Ogletree
On Thursday, December 13, Congress passed H.R. 6964, the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. It has been 16 years since the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA) was last authorized. JJDPA is the main federal law that strengthens protections for justice-involved youth and improves public safety.

Upon final passage the Education and Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said:

“Today’s passage of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act is a major victory for America’s youth. With these reforms, we can meet young people right where they are, making enormous progress in prevention and equipping more people to better serve juvenile offenders better and meet the needs of communities. This bill will improve program accountability while promoting evidence-based solutions to give more young adults the tools and skills they need to achieve lifelong success.”

The bill will:

• Strengthen core protections for at-risk youth to avoid the juvenile justice system;
• Support prevention services including the use of alternatives to incarceration;
• Prioritize the implementation of trauma-informed and evidence-based practices;
• Eliminate dangerous practices of confinement of youth including the use of restraints on pregnant girls; and
• Provide state and local leaders flexibility to meet the needs of delinquent youth in their communities and improve public safety.

The JJDPA was first passed in 1974 and was last reauthorized in 2002. Its mission is to coordinate federal resources aimed at improving state juvenile justice systems with a focus on education and rehabilitation. This reauthorization was sponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN), and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA).

Juvenile Justice is critical to child welfare since it deals with some of the same populations and young people. In some instances, Title IV-E foster care funding may cover some youth who are involved with both systems. Some youth may have some of the same challenges such as lacking a permanent home.
Congressman Lewis said:

“The Juvenile Justice Reform Act finally prioritizes effective strategies for our juvenile justice system. This historic reauthorization, the first since 2002, has long been recognized as vital by both Republicans and Democrats in the House as well as the Senate. With this legislation in place, we can build safer communities, improve efficiencies and help give troubled kids a second chance to become productive citizens.”

That sentiment was echoed by Congressman Scott who said:

“Today is the culmination of a multi-year, bipartisan effort to improve our juvenile justice system… This legislation strengthens each of the core protections for children in the juvenile justice system: It ensures children are treated separately – both in approach and location – than adult offenders; it shifts the focus from punishing young people to supporting them through education and programming; and it puts a spotlight on the racial disparities in our juvenile justice system. I am particularly gratified that this bill incorporates key elements of the Youth P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Act, which I have worked on over the last decade, as a proactive way to reduce juvenile delinquency and gang involvement.”

The bill also includes a two-year reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), in addition to the Youth P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Act. The JJDPA has been endorsed by many groups led by the Act4JJ Coalition including CWLA. To thank Congress for reauthorizing the JJDPA, you can send an action alert here. On Wednesday, December 12, the Senate passed the bill and sent it to the House, who passed the conferenced package sending the bill to the president’s desk for his signature.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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