Youth Justice Needs An Update Of Historic 40-Year-Old Law: Advocate


The landmark federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act marked its 40th anniversary this week, and Marie Williams of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice says the law, which Congress last reauthorized 12 years ago, “is lagging behind.” Williams writes for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange that the statute “fails to reflect many exciting new developments in the field, including but not limited to: new adolescent brain science research (that establishes definitively that youth are different from adults), the cost-effectiveness and improved outcomes from treatment-focused, community-based approaches; the efficacy of violence prevention and treatment programs; and the ways in which a system designed to address males in a majority white society is failing to meet the needs of minorities and girls.”

The law was enacted to provide protections for youths in the justice system, but it now is regarded as imposing “requirements,” Williams says. She argues that this “creates a disincentive to enact bold new reform efforts supported with public dollars.” The failure to modernize the law means that states, which are the main source of funding for juvenile justice, don’t necessarily innovate, says Williams. “As private foundations turn their focus and their funding to other social issues, the need for public investment could not be greater. A statute informed by what we now know to be effective will ensure that juvenile justice practice does not lose the significant ground gained since 1974,” Williams writes

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