Juvenile Justice Law Update Finally Passes Congress

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The House followed the Senate in approving a five-year reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), handing a win to youth advocates who have fought to update the legislation for 16 years, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.  The law sets core safety standards for juvenile offenders that states must follow to qualify for federal grants. It also aims to prevent delinquency and curb racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice systems. Naomi Smoot of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice said, “It’s been a long, hard-fought battle, but we’re incredibly excited … to have a reauthorization.”  Advocates say reauthorization will help increase funding for JJDPA and improve the treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system, because experts have more information on adolescent behavior now than they did 16 years ago. The law was enacted in 1974.

“It’s a really, really big deal,” said Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “It’s an incentive for states to improve their justice systems to reflect best practice … and to create a minimum standard on how we treat children.” She said, “The biggest improvement for us is the fact that youth who are charged as adults now have to be out of adult jails,” said Mistrett. “It’s huge.” The law encourages authorities to be more vigilant at screening children who might have been sexually trafficked or who suffer from mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse and requires states to phase out the shackling of pregnant girls and support continuing education for detainees. States receive a formula grant for complying with the act. Wyoming, Connecticut and Nebraska are the only states that do not participate in JJDPA.

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