The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2015 (JJDPA), which has protected the care and treatment of children and youth in the justice system for over 40 years.
The bill, S. 1169—which Congress last reauthorized in 2002—would close loopholes in the law to prevent youth from entering the system for minor offenses, and make provisions to ensure the continuation of children’s education while detained and a smooth transition back into the classroom.
National PTA believes that this bipartisan reauthorization is a positive step towards a safer and more supportive juvenile justice system that helps every child reach his or her potential. Earlier this month, we cosigned a letter in support of the bill with other national and state organizations.
The bill will move to the Senate floor for further consideration. In June, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a JJDPA reauthorization bill—H.R. 2728—in the House.
According to a recent report by the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), despite key reforms to reduce youth incarceration and detention, more than 600,000 children and youth are arrested each year in the U.S. A majority of these arrests could be more effectively treated in community-based settings.
The report also found that:
- Over 60,000 of these young people are being held in detention centers awaiting trial—thousands for minor offenses such as skipping school.
- About 250,000 are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system annually.
- Of nearly 55,000 children in state prisons, most are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
- On any given night, more than 6,000 youth are held in adult jails and prisons.
Our organization has advocated for a fair, safe and rehabilitative juvenile justice system for over 100 years, dating back to the association’s first resolution in 1899, addressing how children are handled in the judicial system.
We continuously support the prohibition of incarcerating youth in adult facilities; addressing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in the juvenile justice system; and finding alternatives to detaining nonviolent youth.
Other provisions in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015 include:
- Prohibiting children who commit status offenses—conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult such as breaking curfew, skipping school or running away—from being kept at a correctional facility.
- Encouraging alternative options for status offenders.
- Making sure detained youth are kept separate from adults.
- Providing clear directions for states to develop plans to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among youth who come in contact with the juvenile system. States and state education agencies would also need to develop plans and collaborate with juvenile detention facilities to continue a child’s education while detained and allow for a smooth transition back to the classroom.
Keep checking our blog for updates on the JJDPA reauthorization process and other legislation to better the lives of every child in education, health and safety.
Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.