(Shrinking) Federal Investments in Juvenile Justice Make a Difference -- and How You Can Help

juvenile-justice-reform_Uncle-SamFederal funding for juvenile justice has been critical in shaping juvenile justice policy and advancing juvenile justice reform in accord with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
And anyone working in the field of juvenile justice knows that federal funds have been cut in the last few years. But it wasn't until I saw "Safeguarding the Future: Strategic Investments to Secure the Safety of America’s Youth, Families and Communities," a new 4-page publication from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), that I realized just how deeply federal assistance had been slashed:

Since FY 2002, federal investments in programs that prevent and reduce delinquency have decreased by 50%. Over that same period, federal spending on policing, prosecution and incarceration has increased by more than 60%.

Unsurprisingly, states are feeling the effects, particularly in a time when local resources are scarce to make up the difference. CJJ points out that it's critical to invest in programs that address and prevent delinquency, and that doing so pays off later on. In fact, CJJ puts a number on it:

For every $1 invested in prevention and family and community based interventions, taxpayers save up to $8 in immediate and future juvenile and criminal justice costs.

Because CJJ knows its readers might be skeptical about the impact of federal dollars, it proceeds to give specific examples from 17 states of how Congressional spending allocations through Title II State Formula Grants, Title V Local Delinquency Prevention, and Juvenile Accountability Block Grant programs have supported states' efforts to help youth in trouble with the law and their families to turn their lives around.
The highlights? The projects supported have reduced unnecessary use of juvenile detention, provided alternatives to incarceration or formal probation, and targeted the school-to-prison pipeline.
Still, I encourage you to download and scan the document yourself. I think you'll be impressed by the scale of what federal funds have made possible -- and concerned about what further cuts could mean for community safety and opportunities for youth in trouble with the law to live crime-free lives.
What can you do?
As it happens, a member of the Reclaiming Futures LinkedIn discussion group, "Juvenile Justice Reform and Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment," recently asked me how she could get involved in advocating for juvenile justice reform. Here's the rough-and-ready list I came up with for her (somewhat edited):

  • At the local level, I'd recommend meeting with your county juvenile justice director and learning about what s/he and his/her staff are working on. (Some will be working strategically to advance juvenile justice reform, and some will want to, but lack staff and resources.) There are plenty of other folks to meet locally, both in the court system -- judges, prosecutors, defense bar, child welfare -- and in the community.

    To connect with formal advocacy organizations, I recommend you check out this state-by-state guide from the National Juvenile Justice Network and see who's working on these issues in your state. You may feel that none of these folks are tackling the issue the way you think it should be done, but it will help to have a good idea of what other people are working on and build alliances that way.  

  • Not every state has an organization that's a member of the NJJN, but each state has a state advisory group (insiders call them "SAGs"). I'm not certain how greatly their makeup varies from state to state, but there might be an opportunity to serve on your state's SAG. Even if you can't, it's a good idea to get to know the people who do serve on it. A great place to learn about them is through the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Here's a link to  CJJ's map of state-level juvenile justice resources
  • Depending upon your own level of knowledge, I'd recommend starting with an informational interview with the chair of your local SAG. You might consider asking to see the SAG's strategic plan, or at least ask what its current priorities are and what the chair recommends in terms of ways to have an impact. 
  • At the national level, you might be interested in learning more about the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which is several years overdue for reauthorization by Congress. This is an important act, because it guides state policies in return for federal block grants that support juvenile justice systems.
  • There are also organizations that work on specific aspects of juvenile justice policy. For example, if you're most interested in addressing the overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system, a good starting point is the W. Haywood Burns Institute. (In fact, here you can watch a webinar with the James Bell, who directs the Burns Institute -- and check out an interactive state-by-state map on disproportionate minority contact.) Alternatively, if want to reduce the number of youth tried as adults, the Campaign for Youth Justice is the place to go.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of organizations working on juvenile justice issues (apologies to all those I didn't mention specifically); but I do hope it can help you explore the issues and learn more about who else is working on them in your area. If you work in the system but want to advance the cause of juvenile justice reform, please pass this information on to advocates in the community -- they may already be up to speed, but you never know. 
What actions (or what resources) would you add to the list? Leave a comment!

Related Post:  Four Things You Can Do for Juvenile Justice Reform
Photo: moriza under Creative Commons license

Updated: February 08 2018