JJDPA Reauthorization: Updated Protections to Ensure Equity for Youth

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In December 2018, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was reauthorized and updated for the first time in 16 years. The Juvenile Justice Reform Act, H.R. 6964, passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. This critical legislation, which will be implemented starting October 1st, gained bipartisan support and will have tremendous impacts on the juvenile justice field in years to come. 

The JJDPA was first passed by Congress in 1974 in order to ensure youth in the justice system received a series of core protections. The JJDPA ensures that all youth, regardless of the state they live in, are guarded by federal standards of care. In order to achieve this goal, the JJDPA created a federal-state partnership to ensure the best outcomes for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. The federal-state partnership includes the creation of State Advisory Groups, government appointed bodies in each state and territory that are intended to provide input from a variety of voices and experts as to the most effective use of state JJDPA funds. In addition, the JJDPA provides federal funding for delinquency prevention and improvements in state and local juvenile justice programs. Finally, the JJDPA created a federal agency, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), dedicated to training, technical assistance, and research to support state and local efforts. 

The JJDPA also sets out four core protections which states must adhere to in order to receive federal funds: 

  1. Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders 

Status offenses are behaviors that violate the law only when engaged in by minors and that would not be considered punishable for adults. Examples of this include skipping school, running away, or breaking curfew. Under the JJDPA, with a few exceptions, youth charged with status offenses cannot be held in secure detention or confinement. Currently, non-delinquent status offenders are allowed to be securely detained in detention facilities when Valid Court Orders (VCO) are issued by a judge. Although H.R. 6964 does not entirely eliminate youth from being detained, it does issue significant protections and strict guidelines that a judge must adhere by. A youth may be detained for no more than seven days and may only be detained under the following conditions: 1) The valid court order has been violated; 2) Factual basis determining reasonable cause to believe that the youth has violated the valid court order; 3) Factual findings to support there is no appropriate alternative to holding the youth in a detention facility; and 4) Specifies the time that the youth will spend in the facility, not to exceed seven days. The order may not be renewed.

  1. Adult Jail and Lock-Up Removal

The JJDPA mandates that youth may not be detained in adult jails for extended periods of time except in emergency conditions. Before  H.R. 6964, youth who were being charged as adults were not protected from the dangers that may ensue from being held in an adult facility. Youths that are held in adult facilities are more likely to reoffend upon release and are at a higher risk for being assaulted or committing suicide while in the facility.

With the reauthorization, youth in adult jails must be moved to juvenile detention centers by December 21, 2021, including youth that are being charged as adults. Youth may only be held in an adult facility if it is “in the interest of justice.” This is determined by considering seven factors: the youth’s age, their physical and mental maturity, their present mental state, the nature and circumstances of the charges, their history of delinquency, the ability of adult and juvenile facilities to meet the needs of the youth while protecting the public and other youth in custody, and “any other relevant factor.” If the youth is to be held in a juvenile facility, a hearing must occur every 30 days to determine if an adult facility is still the best option for the youth and the youth cannot be held in an adult facility for more than 180 days without good cause.

  1. Sight and Sound Protection

When youth are in adult jails either for short periods of time or because conditions prevent travel to juvenile facilities, the JJDPA mandates “Sight and Sound Separation,” meaning children are prohibited from contact with adults in order to protect them from threats or abuse from adult offenders. H.R. 6964 extends sight and sound protection to youth awaiting trial in order to ensure maximum protection for any youth in an adult facility. H.R. 6964 defines sight and sound contact as “any physical, clear visual, or verbal contact that is not brief and inadvertent.”

  1. Racial and Ethnic Disparities

The JJDPA requires states to assess and address racial and ethnic disparities in every aspect of their juvenile justice systems. H.R. 6964 changed the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) requirements to Racial and Ethnic Disparities. Under the new requirements, states must collect and analyze data on racial and ethnic disparities in their juvenile justice system and create action plans to address these issues through data-driven proposals. H.R. 6964 also establishes more protections for tribal youth and includes tribal representation in State Advisory Groups when available.

The 2018 reauthorization of the JJDPA, H.R. 6964 The Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018, brought the JJDPA up to the standards of juvenile justice which have been established since the last reauthorization by accounting for changes and evolutions in our understanding of juvenile justice. The 2018 reauthorization strengthens existing protections specifically in relation to the core four protections outlined in the JJDPA and adds further improvements to account for scientific and research programs in the last 16 years.