By Lucia Bragg
The U.S. House passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) on Dec. 13, as did the Senate two days before, sending the comprehensive reform legislation to the president’s desk.
Overshadowed by news of the swift and sudden movement through Congress of the First Step Act, major federal criminal justice reform legislation, the JJDPA’s passage marks a critical moment in juvenile justice reform.
Reviewed, revised and postponed for more than a decade, the bill implements a new version of the JJDPA that expired in 2007, and favors a more collaborative effort among parents, teachers and community members in addressing juvenile offenders.
The original law, enacted in 1974, aimed to focus federal and state efforts to improve juvenile justice systems on education and rehabilitation—trading federal grants for compliance with basic juvenile justice standards.
Over the years, many of these state juvenile justice programs have improved outcomes for juvenile offenders—but not all have produced the same results, and serious inequities in the system remain. Now, many years later, the current JJDPA bill aims to improve on this framework by:
- Providing greater flexibility to state and local leaders in meeting the needs of delinquent youth in their communities.
- Improving support for prevention services, allowing at-risk youth to avoid the justice system altogether.
- Prioritizing evidence-based strategies with proven track records.
- Authorizing funding for tutoring, mental health, and drug and alcohol programs for children.
- Barring states from holding children in adult jails, even if they’ve been charged with adult crimes. In so doing, the bill eliminates a loophole in earlier versions of the law allowing juvenile offenders to be held in adult jails pretrial.
- Requiring states that receive related federal funding to track data on racial disparities, and craft state plans to detail how to counter those trends.
- Banning the shackling of pregnant women.
It is anticipated that the president is likely to sign the bill, given little pushback thus far.
Lucia Bragg is a policy associate with NCSL's State-Federal Relations Division.