Youth Justice Must Be A Priority This Appropriations Season

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Author: Leighann Agyemang is a CJJ Legal Extern for Spring 2021.

Joaquin E DiazDeLeon once said “Rehabilitation happens when teenagers are forced to connect with their communities and confront their mistakes”. Youth justice funding is critical for such community-based rehabilitation to happen.

 Youth Justice in the United States has predominantly been the province of the states and their localities, and as a result laws pertaining to youth vary from state to state. Although the federal government does not generally play a direct role in administering youth justice, the federal government influences youth justice by authorizing and funding grant programs administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ's). In 1974, Congress passed the first comprehensive piece of youth justice legislation, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) which authorizes a number of federally funded youth justice grant programs. The Department of Justice's (DOJ's) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) was created through the enactment of the JJDPA. The most recent reauthorization of this law was in 2018. Funding for the JJDPA is more important than ever. States need financial and technical support as they work to implement the important updates that were included in the reauthorization. 

The JJDPA is based on a broad consensus that children, youth, and families involved with the youth 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.  The JJDPA provides for federal funding for delinquency prevention and improvements in state and local youth justice programs and practices.  

Even though funding has improved over the past two years, federal appropriations to states, localities, and tribes for key federal youth justice programs have been cut dramatically in the last decade, impacting states' ability to serve youth.  Cuts have weakened the federal-state partnership and slowed national, state, and local progress in this area.  Many states have had to reduce services, and further cuts would result in fewer youth having access to services designed to keep them out of trouble and on the right path especially during this time of economic downtown.  

It is essential that Congress fully fund the following justice programs to keep our young people and their communities safe: 

  • The JJDPA Title II State Formula Grants Program supports statewide efforts to implement the JJDPA and coordinate efforts for compliance with the core requirements, delinquency prevention, and juvenile justice reform. Over the past decade, Title II has been cut by nearly 20%. 

    $80,000,000 is required for the full implementation of Title II. 

  • The JJDPA Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants Program is the only federal program designed to engage law enforcement and community boards in delinquency prevention at the local level in coordination with a statewide plan. Over the past decade, Title V has been slashed by 55%. During several of these years, nearly all funding was carved out for non-JJDPA purposes

      $96,053,401 is required for the full implementation of Title V. 

  • The Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program (JABG) provides juvenile justice practitioners and systems with support for graduated sanctions and continuums of care to address the needs of adjudicated youth. These funds stood at $249.5 million in FY02. Since FY14, however, this crucial source of federal dollars was completely eliminated from Congress' budget. 

     $30,000,000 is required for the full implementation of JABG. 

Federal investments play an essential role in state juvenile justice efforts to protect youth and promote safe communities.  When coupled with state, local, and private dollars, federal investments seed and support the development, implementation, and sustainability of optimal juvenile justice and delinquency prevention systems and practices in U.S. states, the District of Columbia, territories, and native lands, as well as local jurisdictions.

For every dollar invested in community-based youth development and prevention efforts, we dramatically reduce delinquency and save taxpayers up to eight dollars in future costs. In addition, community-based and family-centered treatment for youth has been shown to be far more effective and cost-efficient than incarceration. Research shows that system-involved youth are at risk of emotional and physical injury unless systems invest in options and alternatives that keep youth separate from adult offenders and prevent/limit the use of locked confinement for less serious offenders.

The JJDPA has been an extremely successful program, yet cuts to these programs have weakened the federal-state partnership and stymied national, state, and local progress in this area. Many states have already had to significantly reduce services. Further cuts would inhibit the improvements made by the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 and result in fewer youth having access to services designed to keep them from engaging in unlawful behaviors and penetrating deeper into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. 

It is critical that JJDPA and other critical youth justice initiatives are funded in order for implementation of the new protections of the law to be successful. This important federal-state partnership to protect children and to invest in innovative and cost-effective reforms that keep youth out of trouble and communities safe must be affirmed. Additionally, affirming the JJDPA will help states close and repurpose youth prisons in order to invest significant savings to achieve truly effective and cost efficient programming and outcomes for young people, families, and their communities.  Especially during this time of economic downturn, when state and local budgets are strapped, it is important for new federal funds to be invested in youth justice.