Why the JJDPA Matters to Youth Advocates Across the Country

Why the JJDPA Matters to Youth Advocates Across the Country by Sarah Bryer

To read this article on the Reclaiming Futures website, click here.

As I write this, the government shutdown shows no sign of ending. Under the circumstances, it is hard to imagine a Congress capable of taking action to protect youth and promote safer communities. Yet it did so in 1974, when it passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), and did so again when it repeatedly reauthorized the act over the years — most recently in 2002.

And the act is a great example of just how much good Congress can do for our communities and for youth who come into contact with the justice system. At its heart, the act mandates that states abide by four requirements:

  • youth who commit status offenses — i.e., youth who have done things that would not be considered crimes if they were adults, such as running away or skipping school — are not to be held in secure facilities;
  • in most cases, youth cannot be placed in adults jails and lock-ups;
  • when youth are held in adult facilities, they must be separated by both sight and sound from adults; and
  • states must address the disproportionate rate at which youth of color are swept up in the juvenile justice system, from arrest to detention to confinement.