Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 Affirms Protections for Young People

Posted December 22, 2018, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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Two young girls who are friends are hugging

New fed­er­al juve­nile jus­tice leg­is­la­tion reaf­firms and strength­ens key pro­tec­tions for young peo­ple exposed to the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. The Juve­nile Jus­tice Reform Act of 2018 is a bipar­ti­san effort that reau­tho­rizes pro­vi­sions in the Juve­nile Jus­tice Delin­quen­cy and Pre­ven­tion Act — the main fed­er­al law relat­ed to juve­nile jus­tice — that make fed­er­al funds avail­able to states to ensure four core pro­tec­tions for jus­tice-involved youth:

  • pre­vent­ing young peo­ple from being locked up for age-based offens­es, such as tru­an­cy, run­ning away and vio­lat­ing curfew;
  • remov­ing young peo­ple from adult facil­i­ties, with lim­it­ed exceptions;
  • keep­ing young peo­ple who are incar­cer­at­ed sep­a­rate from incar­cer­at­ed adults; and
  • requir­ing states to iden­ti­fy and work to reduce racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties in the juve­nile jus­tice system.

Casey Foun­da­tion Senior Asso­ciate Liane Rozzell empha­sized the impor­tance of striv­ing for racial and eth­nic equi­ty in the youth jus­tice sys­tem. The new leg­is­la­tion requires states to make pol­i­cy and prac­tice changes that close dis­par­i­ties in a mea­sur­able way,” Rozzell said. This is a crit­i­cal pro­vi­sion to ensure that young peo­ple, regard­less of their race or eth­nic­i­ty, will be treat­ed fair­ly and equi­tably by our legal system.”

The law also pro­motes the use of alter­na­tives to incar­cer­a­tion and estab­lish­es fund­ing for local com­mu­ni­ties to build out a con­tin­u­um of delin­quen­cy pre­ven­tion pro­grams, sup­port and oppor­tu­ni­ties for youth.

This update has been a long time com­ing,” said Rozzell. The last reau­tho­riza­tion was in 2002 and the field has come a long way in that time.”

The 2018 law reflects cur­rent research and prac­tice. The act:

  • sup­ports the imple­men­ta­tion of evi­dence-based prac­tices that address trau­ma youth and fam­i­lies have experienced;
  • calls for the elim­i­na­tion of dan­ger­ous prac­tices in con­fine­ment, includ­ing elim­i­nat­ing the use of restraints on girls who are pregnant;
  • improves con­di­tions and edu­ca­tion­al ser­vices for youth in facilities;
  • focus­es on the par­tic­u­lar needs of spe­cial youth pop­u­la­tions, such as traf­ficked youth and trib­al youth; and
  • increas­es accountability.

The leg­is­la­tion also includes a two-year reau­tho­riza­tion of the fed­er­al Run­away and Home­less Youth Act.

The legislation’s lead co-spon­sors were Sen. Chuck Grass­ley from Iowa, Sen. Shel­don White­house from Rhode Island, Rep. Jason Lewis from Min­neso­ta and Rep. Bob­by Scott from Vir­ginia. Many advo­cates played cru­cial roles in edu­cat­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ers about the need for fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion and fund­ing for juve­nile jus­tice pro­grams and ser­vices, includ­ing the Nation­al Juve­nile Jus­tice and Delin­quen­cy Pre­ven­tion Coali­tion, which rep­re­sents more than 180 nation­al orga­ni­za­tions who work on youth devel­op­ment and juve­nile jus­tice issues.

Read a sum­ma­ry of the Juve­nile Jus­tice Reform Act of 2018 from the Coali­tion for Juve­nile Jus­tice, a Foun­da­tion grantee.

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