Roundup: Juvenile Justice Reform at a Crossroads

juvenile-justice-reform_old-TVJuvenile Justice Reform in Jeopardy, or Headed for a Golden Age? 

  • The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) may be in trouble, if Congress reauthorizes it without increased funding for states to comply. That could mean that cash-strapped states may opt out, despite its long success and the high marks given to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) for the training and technical assistance it provides to support the JJDPA. What would happen in your state, if the federal allocation was reduced or stayed the same? 
  • You can see the same tug-of-war between what works and the poor economy playing out in two recent publications. On the one hand, the research continues to point steadfastly to the sort of reforms that the JJDPA is intended to advance. You can see this in "Juvenile Justice: Lessons for  New Era," by Mark Soler, Dana Shoenberg, and Marc Schindler. It lays out the changes in policy and research from the mid-1970s to now. While not light reading, it's an excellent overview, and provides recommendations for the future (see page 538). 

On the other side, you have “A Capitol Concern: The Disproportionate Impact of the Justice System on Low-Income Communities in D.C.,” a brief from the Justice Policy institute that examines the connections between poverty, race and the justice system in the District of Columbia, as well as the significance of such factors as housing, education, youth development, health care, and employment.
While it also advocates for reforms in both the adult and juvenile justice systems, this publication shows that communities like D.C. aren't listening to the research or using data to drive policy, with devastating impacts on communities of color.
For example, crime is down 22% overall, but arrests are up -- youth arrests went up 42% between 2001 and 2009, mostly for misdemeanors. Apparently, about 96% of all youth committed are African American; 4% are Latino. (Is it really true that white kids simply aren't committed?)
The point of this report isn't to say that a bad economy drove bad policy choices, but it indicates that many communities may choose harsher law enforcement, despite its cost, rather than rehabilitation. Budget crunches don't have to spell the end of good policy, however; they can, in fact, offer opportunities for reform.
Length of a Youth's Sentence = Number of Birds at the Window

  • As if to remind us all of the continuing importance of juvenile justice reform, the Phildelphia Inquirer ran an editorial calling for quick justice for one of the judges involved in Luzerne County, PA's "kids-for-cash" scandal. The editorial pointed out the irony that Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. reportedly rushed youth through the legal process (often without counsel), but his own trial is moving forward with all the ponderous majesty of due process.

Though the editorial firmly states that Ciavarella  has a right to due process, it struck me as wistful about the fact that he won't get a taste of his own medicine. And no wonder, when you read this sentence: 

"One youth's sentence was set by Ciavarella based on the number of birds perched outside a courtroom window."

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Updated: February 08 2018