Tag Archives: Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act

NYT on JJDPA Reauth

An editorial in today’s Times offers strong support for the “comprehensive approach” to juvenile justice reform that informs the Senate’s JJDPA reauthorization bill (background here). “This bill represents an important step toward rational and compassionate justice for troubled children,” the editorial states. But it’s not perfect. As Congress considers reforming the juv justice system, legislators “ought to bar the states from housing children in adult jails, except for the most heinous crimes. Sadly, the updated version of the law…falls short of that goal.”


Senators Introduce JJDPA Bill

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Senator Herb Kohl, the senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill yesterday to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the key piece of federal legislation guiding juvenile justice funding and management in the states.

The JJDPA, as it’s called, comes up for reauthorization every five years. Technically speaking, it doesn’t need to be reauthorized; if it’s not, the law remains on the books as it’s currently written. (It’s already past due.) 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 reauthorization campaign has been a long time coming (for background, see the Juvienation backlog on this subject and visit the Act4JJ website), and it’s got a ways to go. But the introduction of this legislation, and the lead role taken by Leahy, a prominent supporter of smart juvenile justice reform, are promising signs. From the committee’s press release:

The proposed legislation would increase federal funding for prevention, intervention and treatment programs designed to reduce incidence of juvenile crime. The bill strikes a balance between providing federal support and guidance to state programs and respecting the individual criminal justice policies of states. The bill urges states to make key improvements to juvenile justice systems, and addresses concerns about pretrial detention of youths in adult jails and about detention of children who commit status offenses like truancy by establishing meaningful guidelines, procedural protections, and restrictions. The legislation also prioritizes and funds mental health and drug treatment for juvenile offenders, and encourages states to further address the overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice system. Finally, the bill supports the efforts of states that attempt to comply with the core requirements of the JJDPA by making funds available through improvement grants to help bring states into compliance with the Act.

“With the reauthorization of this important legislation, we recommit to the important goals of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Protection Act,” said Leahy. “We also push the law forward in key ways to better serve our communities and our children. After months of research and discussions, Senator Kohl, Senator Specter, and I believe we have found a way forward toward creating a system that will work more effectively to protect our young people.”

“Despite the nationwide recognition of the importance that role models and mentoring play in youth development, there remains an unfortunate shortage of programs devoted to stemming youth delinquency,” Specter said. “Through mentoring and other programs, this Act will help to prevent delinquency and promote rehabilitation, so that young offenders are less likely to become stuck in the criminal justice system. I am pleased to be a cosponsor, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass this legislation.”

“Juvenile justice programs help prevent crime, strengthen communities and give kids a second chance to succeed and lead productive lives,” Kohl said. “This legislation responds to the immediate needs of communities throughout our nation facing the problem of juvenile delinquency by increasing federal resources. I applaud Senators Leahy and Specter for working with me to unveil this bill that will bolster and expand juvenile justice initiatives, provide hope for millions of at-risk children and address the roots of crime.”

Some advocates have suggested, I think astutely, that the bill is not likely to pass during the current legislative session. That’s my guess, too: there’s simply not much happening in Congress during the election cycle, certainly when it comes to domestic spending. But the introduction of this bill has put it on the legislative agenda and will give senators something tangible to consider when it comes to juvenile justice reform. Reauthorization may still be a ways off, but it’s coming.


Editorial in today’s New York Times:

Children in Adult Jails

Children who are confined to adult jails are at greater risk of being raped, battered or pushed to suicide. They also are more likely to become violent criminals than children handled through the juvenile justice system. When Congress reauthorizes the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, it should press the states to end this barbaric practice.

The juvenile justice law provides federal aid to states that agree to humanize their often Dickensian systems — and to refrain from placing children in adult jails. The bargain worked well enough until the 1990s, when there was an outbreak of hysteria about so-called super predators and an adolescent crime wave that never materialized.

States classified ever larger numbers of young offenders as adults. Today, laws in more than 40 states permit adult courts to try children as young as 14. Perhaps as many as half the young people who are transferred into the adult system are never convicted as adults — and some are never convicted at all. But by the time the system is finished with them, many will have spent more than six months in adult jails, according to a report by the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Not surprisingly, these young people are much more likely to harm themselves in adult jails than in juvenile facilities. Those who survive often return to their communities as damaged people who are much more likely to commit crimes and return to prison.


The current system is counterproductive and inhumane. Congress could remedy this with one simple fix. It should require all states that receive federal juvenile justice aid to refrain from housing people under the age of 18 in adult jails, except for those accused of the most serious crimes like rape and murder.

Meet J. Robert Flores, OJJDP Chief (Underminer)

Juvienation reader Bill Bush writes in with this comment in response to my post from a few days ago on cronyism at the OJJDP.

Who is Flores? What is his background prior to OJJDP? I read his bio on the agency web site but it isn’t all that illuminating. He seems to have been a crusader against Internet child pornography and exploitation but with no obvious experience in juvenile justice or delinquency prevention, the OJJDP’s purview.

Here is the full OJJDP bio on Flores, and here is a relevant excerpt:

A longtime advocate for children, J. Robert Flores has led a distinguished career in juvenile and criminal justice. Currently the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a position he assumed in April 2002, Mr. Flores previously served in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked on issues related to child exploitation and obscenity.

Mr. Flores is an experienced lawyer and former prosecutor with expertise in Internet crime, child abuse and exploitation, and juvenile justice issues. In his role as OJJDP Administrator, he has spearheaded efforts to increase and improve Federal interagency cooperation, serving as Vice Chairman of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In keeping with the President’s management initiatives to make the Federal government more efficient, Mr. Flores has initiated three pilot programs to address youth gangs, reduce child prostitution, and improve the juvenile justice system. Under his leadership, OJJDP has expanded its efforts to respond to the online exploitation of children and significantly increased the involvement of faith-based and community organizations in its programming. [Emphasis added.]

The American Bar Association, honoring National Hispanic Heritage Month in 2002, published a longer profile of Flores shortly after he was appointed, which provides a bit more detail on Flores’s background. You can read it here.

Flores’s selection to head OJJDP says a lot about the Bush Administration’s priorities when it comes to the federal agency. Under Flores the OJJDP’s mandate has quietly shifted from its stated mission–overseeing the nation’s juvenile justice and delinquency prevention efforts–to helping the Justice Department protect children from abuse and exploitation, particularly in the Wild West of the Internet, and applying Mafia-sting tactics to crack down on youth gangs.

Now compare Flores’s tenure with that of his predecessor Shay Bilchik, OJJDP administrator from 1994 to 2000. (An acting administrator bridged the gap from 2000 to 2002.) Bilchik, who has since served as the executive director of the Child Welfare League of America and as head of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, was, according to his CWLA bio, “an Assistant State Attorney for the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami from 1977 to 1993, where he served as a trial lawyer, juvenile division chief and Chief Assistant for Administration.” He regularly writes articles and testifies on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, and has been involved in drafting a number of juvenile justice and child abuse legislative proposals.

Under Clinton Bilchik focused, among other things, on developing early-intervention strategies for at-risk youth. To give you a sense of where he’s coming from on juvenile justice policy, consider this December 1997 interview with Juvenile Justice, the OJJDP journal, during which he dismissed fears of the mythical teen “superpredators,” discussed the importance of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and highlighted the continued need to strengthen its core requirements. Flores, in comparison, had to be dragged to the JJDPA reauthorization hearings last fall so that he could deliver his boilerplate testimony. It’s fair to assume he was more enthusiastic the day President Bush signed the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

Leahy on JJDPA: “It Should Be Reauthorized”

Ah, good. We’re one step closer toward reauthorizing the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). Senate Judiciary Committee chairman has announced that hearings will be scheduled following Easter recess, and he’s officially on board. “It should be reauthorized,” Leahy indicated. “One of the things I learned when I was a prosecutor is if you ignore problems of juveniles you’ll have much, much greater problems later on.”

This news comes courtesy of WPTZ, the local NBC affiliate in Plattsburgh, New York, which also reaches residents in Leahy’s home state of Vermont. The video, accompanied by an adapted transcript, makes an implicit argument for smart, sensible (i.e., un-adultified) treatment of juvenile offenders by way of Paul Winauski, a Montpelier resident who was arrested at 16 for assaulting a homeless man. Rather than send him into the adult prison system, though, the judge in his case agreed to refer him to juvenile court. On the juvenile side, Winauski was given therapy and treatment for substance abuse; now, ten years later, he’s married and holding down a full-time management job.

If you read the article and/or watch the video, you’ll hear from Liz Ryan, a leading national advocate who directs the Campaign for Youth Justice and has been at the forefront of pushing for JJDPA reauthorization. You’ll also hear from Leahy, who says that “we ought to be doing more” to help troubled teens turn their lives around. “Let’s get them alternatives, let’s work with them,” he says. “Let’s make sure they don’t become criminals.” This spring, with Leahy’s leadership, federal lawmakers will have a great opportunity to do just that, by strengthening the core requirements of the JJDPA.

For background on the JJDPA and more info on what’s at stake, check out the Act4JJ website and read these posts on the Juvienation backlog:

Catching Up With the JJDPA Reauthorization Campaign

JJDPA Reauthorization: Draft Bill Coming Soon

JJDPA Testimony

JJDPA Hearings Today

Senate Judiciary Committee to Review JJDPA

New JJDPA Testimony Posted

Reauthorizing JJDPA


The Coalition for Juvenile Justice is seeking proposals from independent research consultants to develop, conduct and write up a survey among the nation’s 56 state juvenile justice advisory groups on the JJDPA (questions about compliance, challenges, successes).  Details here.

Deadline is March 21.

Catching Up With the JJDPA Reauthorization Campaign

From the March issue of Youth Today (the link is unavailable, so the text is posted below in full):

Advocates Seek to Reform JJDP Act
by Erika Fitzpatrick

Federal juvenile justice reauthorization should for the first time encourage states to address conditions in youth jails and residential facilities, in light of recent abuses in such places as Texas and Ohio, juvenile justice advocates said late last month. But they said Congress should not make the safety of such places a new “core” requirement.

That was among the many recommendations discussed at a Capitol Hill briefing arranged by Act 4 Juvenile Justice, a coalition of more than 280 organizations that is working to improve and reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

The 34-year-old law aims to protect youth in the justice system by requiring states that accept federal funding to comply with “core” protections: sight and sound separation of youth from adults in lockup; youth removal from adult jails; deinstitutionalization of status offenders, such as runaways and truants; and reduction of minority contact at all points in the juvenile justice system.

Coalition members said they are trying to capitalize on lawmakers’ interest in updating the 1974 act; three hearings have been held so far. “We have a real shot” at getting a bill passed this year, said Tim Briceland-Betts, co-director of government affairs at the Child Welfare League of America, noting a “sense of urgency” in the field.

But recommending that lawmakers make “conditions of confinement” a new core requirement would be a mistake, said Liz Ryan, executive director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, in part because every state would be out of compliance. Instead, she said, advocates are trying to “elevate” the issue in the law by recommending a combination of better data and reporting practices, incentives and training money for reducing dangerous practices (such as the use of shackles and medication to subdue youth), and requirements in state plans to eliminate dangerous practices.

Ryan acknowledged the difficulties in awarding new grants to states to address conditions of confinement. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has threatened to put a hold on any new streams of money, which would stop a bill in its tracks, so any such program would have to be part of the JJDPA’s existing spending authority.

The coalition wants to double the funding for JJDPA over the next five years from its current base of about $384 million, Briceland-Betts said. He said there is “no question” that the practice of earmarking many of the juvenile justice funding accounts does “hamper” the progress of reform. Funds under Title V of the act, which deals with delinquency prevention, are often almost entirely consumed by lawmakers’ pet projects, but Briceland-Betts said there is “active consideration” on the Hill to reduce or eliminate earmarks.

A coalition survey of the juvenile justice field produced four key principles for reauthorization: keep children and youth out of the justice system; ensure equity and cultural competence; make sure that system responses are age- and developmentally appropriate; and strengthen the federal partnership with state and local governments.

The coalition hired Karen Marangi, a lobbyist from Patton Boggs LLP, to help JJDPA reauthorization become a reality. Marangi said she hopes a bill is introduced by May, noting that the legislative process can significantly slow down as election time nears.