A congressional conference committee should agree quickly on a strengthened Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation’s preeminent law protecting young people in the juvenile justice system, write Vincent Schiraldi of Harvard’s Kennedy School and Marc Schindler of the Justice Policy Institute for The Hill – the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). Signed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1974, the JJDPA is 10 years overdue for reauthorization, say Schiraldi and Schindler. The statute promotes efforts to cut delinquency, reduce disproportionate incarceration of youth of color, prevent delinquent youth from being jailed alongside adults, and to keep status offenders – runaways and truants – from being locked up even though they have not been accused of a crime.
Since the law was passed, the number of delinquent youth in adult jails and incarcerated status offenders has plummeted. In 1980, Congress loosened protections against incarcerating youth for running away from home or truancy. The House bill would close that loophole, but Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR.) has held up passage for years while he fought to allow for the continued incarceration of status offenders. Half of U.S. states either ban or shun the practice of incarcerating status offenders. In fiscal year 2014, 7,466 youth were jailed for status offenses nationally. With the opioid crisis and an uptick in violent crime in a few cities bucking the downward trend in violent crime nationally, “now is not the time to backslide on helping young people make better choices,” say Schiraldi and Schindler.