Yesterday I called Representative Carolyn McCarthy’s office to check in on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which is up for reauthorization this year. McCarthy, a Democrat representing the Fourth District in New York, chairs the Healthy Families and Communities (HFC) subcommittee, which is under the umbrella of the House Committee on Education and Labor. Among other things, the HFC is charged with improving federal juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programs; so to a large extent it’s McCarthy’s job to put the JJDPA reauthorization on the legislative agenda and make sure that it goes through.
The JJDPA–the 1974 law that provides federal funds to state juvenile justice programs–comes up for reauthorization every five years. Technically speaking, it doesn’t need to be reauthorized this year; if it’s not, the law will remain on the books as it’s currently written. Alternatively, it could be reauthorized without any changes at all, or watered down.
The opportunity, then, is to update and thereby strengthen the provisions of the act. This is urgently necessary, for two main reasons: The act as it’s currently written is weak and ineffective, and besides, federal leaders aren’t even enforcing it. Adding some muscle to the act would help to realign priorities at both the state and federal level.
The JJDPA is intended to support alternatives to incarceration, to ensure that juveniles who are locked up are kept separate from adults and to reduce the widespread problem of disproportionate minority confinement. Study after study has found states to be failing in all of these areas.
But the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which is supposed to disburse grant funds only to those states that are meeting JJDPA standards, can’t be bothered to do its job. Federal leadership on juvenile justice has been nonexistent in the Bush era: Funding is scarce, and what’s available is distributed without regard for JJDPA standards. (In fact, the OJJDP’s $700 million budget would be totally eliminated under President Bush’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2008.)
These and related issues were discussed during an initial round of hearings on reauthorization, which took place on July 12 (click here to watch video feeds of the experts’ testimony). That was a good start, but now that Congress is back in session, it’s time to press ahead.
McCarthy’s press liaison didn’t pick up when I called; I left him a message and expect to hear from him next week. I’d like to know where this issue falls on McCarthy’s list of priorities. You can find out, too. Call her office at 202-225-5516 and tell her staff that you’d like her to push for reauthorization. You can also print up this ready-made postcard, courtesy of the Act4JJ website, to mail to your local representative.