JJDPA Reauthorized After 16 Years, Preserving Core Protections for Youth

On December 21, 2018, President Trump signed a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (the “JJDPA”).  The JJDPA supports state and local juvenile justice planning and operations through grants, technical assistance, research, and program evaluation.  As a condition of receiving federal funding, states agree to implement core requirements of the Act, which include removing children and youth from adult jails; sight and sound separation of children from adults; deinstitutionalization of status offenders; and efforts to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile system.

This reauthorization caps off 16 years of efforts by juvenile justice advocates to gain traction in Congress and to head off outmoded perceptions by some legislators about what works to produce good results for children.  In the end, the core protections remained intact, and certain areas were strengthened.  The final legislation reduces the placement of youth in adult jails pre-trial and provides more structure to the law’s requirement to decrease racial and ethnic disparities.  It promotes the use of alternatives to incarceration; supports the implementation of trauma-informed, evidence-based practices; calls for the elimination of dangerous practices in confinement, including eliminating the use of restraints on pregnant girls; improves conditions and educational services for incarcerated youth; focuses on the particular needs of special youth populations, such as trafficked youth and Tribal youth; increases local control and accountability in delinquency prevention programming; and provides a two-year reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.

Despite these victories in the final reauthorization, proponents were forced to give up improvements such as a ban on incarceration of status offenders who violate a valid court order (the “VCO exception”), to satisfy conservatives such as Senator Tom Cotton.

A summary of the provisions of the 2018 reauthorization of the JJDPA has been prepared by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Criminal Justice Association.

The text of the reauthorized JJDPA is available on the Congressional website.

A history of the reauthorization efforts is in “JJDPA Reauthorization Passes Congress After 16 Years,” by Lacey Johnson, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (Dec. 18, 2018).