Five Things to Know About the New Juvenile Justice Act

Posted February 8, 2019, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young person with braces smiles

The federal bill reauthorizing and strengthening the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) set new standards for jurisdictions to treat youth in ways appropriate for their age, to reduce discrimination and disparate outcomes for youth of color and to provide a continuum of services, support and opportunities.

Here are five changes in the new version of JJDPA practitioners should understand:

1. New standards for jurisdictions to treat youth in age-appropriate ways

Each state must submit a three-year plan to be eligible for federal funding under the law, and these plans must now demonstrate that they are guided by scientific knowledge about adolescent brain development and behavior.

2. Mandates for community-based prevention and treatment services and family engagement

The new law incorporates key elements of the Youth PROMISE Act, which establishes funding for local communities to build a continuum of prevention and intervention programs for youth who are involved — or at risk of being involved — in the justice system. The local boards that develop the plans must include a balanced representation of public agencies and youth- and family-serving nonprofits, plus at least one youth who has been found guilty by a judge of committing a delinquent act and one parent of a youth adjudicated in this way.

State plans must engage family members in the design and delivery of prevention and treatment services; promote evidence-based and trauma-informed programs and practices; reduce the number of young people locked up while awaiting placement in residential treatment programs; and provide alternatives to detention for status offenses (offenses not considered crimes if committed by an adult, such as truancy or running away).

3. Stronger core protections for youth of color, youth tried as adults and youth who commit status offenses

The new law strengthens each of the JJDPA’s four core protections:

  • Racial and ethnic disparities (RED) is the term in the new version of the law that replaces “disproportionate minority confinement (DMC).” The JJDPA previously required states to make efforts to reduce disparities without providing any specifics. The new bill requires states to use policy, practice and systems-improvement strategies to reduce disparities by taking actions such as establishing coordinating bodies to advise states; using data to identify bias in decision making; and creating and implementing a work plan with measurable objectives to address the needs identified by the data.
  • Sight and sound separation required that young people be separated from incarcerated adults by both sight and sound when they are housed in the same facilities. The new law extends this protection to youth awaiting trial as adults, giving states three years after enactment of the law to comply.
  • Jail removal originally prohibited housing young people in adult facilities while they await trial in juvenile cases, except under limited conditions. As with the “sight and sound separation” cited above, the new law extends this protection to youth awaiting trial as adults, giving states three years after enactment of the law to comply. An exception will apply for cases where a court finds, after a hearing and in writing, that it is in the interest of justice to house youth in adult jails.
  • Deincarceration of status offenses originally prohibited incarcerating youth charged with status offenses. An exception to this prohibition, however, allowed youth to be incarcerated if they violated a valid court order (VCO) related to the status offense. Despite advocates’ contention that the VCO exception should be phased out entirely, Congress agreed on a compromise that maintains it with tight restrictions to limit its use. Youth cannot be held in detention for longer than seven days under VCO; a court must make several specific written findings supporting the decision; and the order may not be renewed or extended unless there is a new violation.

4. Additional data-collection requirements

The new law requires that federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the states collect additional data to get a better understanding of youth in the system. OJJDP must now collect data on ethnicity, along with race and gender, for its annual report on youth taken into custody. For state plans, states are now required to collect data on:

  • the use of restraints and isolation;
  • youth who have other disabilities in addition to learning disabilities;
  • status offense charges filed and youth securely confined based on status offenses;
  • living arrangements of youth returning from custody;
  • school-based offenses;
  • pregnant youth in custody; and
  • child abuse and neglect reports related to youth entering the juvenile system.

5. A related bill, the FIRST STEP Act, will also affect youth

Signed on the same day, the federal FIRST STEP Act incorporates the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative® facility standards on room confinement, also called solitary confinement. This includes the narrow set of circumstances in which room confinement is allowed, the requirement that a young person be released as soon as he or she calms down and a maximum of three hours isolation before the facility must transfer the youth to another, more appropriate facility. Although the FIRST STEP Act only applies to prisoners in federal facilities, it serves as an example for states interested in adopting similar standards.

Related Resource

Read "Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 Affirms Protections for Young People" from Casey's blog

Melissa Coretz Goemann, senior policy council at the National Juvenile Justice Network, contributed information and analysis to this blog.