The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), first enacted in 1974, had not been reauthorized and updated by Congress in more than a decade.For information and history regarding the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), see Coalition for Juvenile Justice, “Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.” For the 2002 reauthorization, see Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), “Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2002.”
The JJDPA provides funds for delinquency prevention and improvements to state and local juvenile justice programs, but the delay in reauthorization provided justification for Congress, particularly members of the House of Representatives, to reduce and even propose eliminating funding.See Act4JJ, “Federal Funding.”H.R. 6964, 115th Congress (2018); Senate Amendment 4075 to H.R. 6964, 115th Congress (2018); and John Kelly, “Juvenile Justice Reauthorization: House Bill vs. Senate Bill,” Chronicle of Social Change, August 7, 2017. For a detailed timeline of Congress’s 2017 efforts, see Coalition for Juvenile Justice, “Reauthorization of the JJDPA.”H.R. 6964 (2018).
The new law amends and improves the 1974 act by, for example, stressing the use of evidence-based, trauma-informed, and developmentally appropriate practices.H.R. 6964 (2018). In addition to setting core safety standards that states must follow to qualify for federal grants, the bill requires greater accountability in identifying and reducing racial disparities among youth who come in contact with the juvenile justice system, including an annually published public report on compliance—previously not a requirement—and more monetary incentives for states to become and remain compliant.H.R. 6964 (2018). Also see Lacy Johnson, “JJDPA Reauthorization Passes after 16 Years,” Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, December 13, 2018. Tracking those widening racial disparities has become harder under the Trump administration: the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has dramatically reduced the types of data local agencies are required to collect and report as part of the agency’s oversight of states’ reductions of “disproportionate minority contact” with the criminal justice system.Eli Hager, “This Agency Tried to Fix the Race Gap in Juvenile Justice. Then Came Trump,” The Marshall Project, September 19, 2018. It’s a move advocates like Lisa Thurau, executive director of Strategies for Youth, equate with “dismantling protections for kids of color.”Hager, “The Race Gap in Juvenile Justice,” 2018.
Under the new administration, OJJDP’s changing mission and policy decisions have raised concerns among youth advocates. In a March question-and-answer session in Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, OJJDP leadership stated that under the Obama administration’s guidance, the agency’s mission had “drifted a bit to a focus on avoiding arrests at all costs and therapeutic intervention. It went a little too far to the side of providing services without thinking of short-term safety.”Kelly Davis, “OJJDP Head Caren Harp Wants to Rebalance System from Focus on ‘Therapeutic Intervention,’” Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, March 22, 2018. Three advocates writing for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange found the agency’s words “shocking,” stating that the agency’s policy changes make clear that it “prioritizes public safety over racial justice” and “fails to understand that the two goals are intertwined.”Rachel Marshall, Joshua Rovner, and Sarah Bryer, “OJJDP Administrator’s Words on Racial Disparities Shock Us [Opinion],” Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, July 6, 2018.