State officials, advocates, and researchers are urging federal officials to tread carefully as they consider changes to how states demonstrate they are protecting juveniles in custody, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. They say that if the rules become too strict, cash-strapped states that are out of compliance could abandon the federal program. “This would inevitably lead to wider variances between and within states in terms of the efficacy, equity and efficiency of juvenile justice systems; and would ultimately lead to poorer outcomes for youth,” said the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which represents juvenile justice state advisory groups.
A pending federal proposal would change how states meet the requirements of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA), regulations that haven’t been updated since the mid-1990s. The law sets standards for juvenile justice that states must follow to receive federal grants. States would have to clear new formula-based thresholds to show they keep juveniles out of adult facilities or at least separate them from adult inmates. The proposal calls for states to do more to root out racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. Under the new rules, 48 states would be out of compliance with at least one of the three formula-based requirements, says the Justice Department. States are already dealing with a sharp decrease in federal funding for juvenile justice; adding the costs of compliance may lead to states dropping out of the grant program, say organizations that have filed comments on the proposal.