Five Things to Know About the New Juvenile Justice Act

Posted February 9, 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.

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