Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Strengthen Federal Youth Justice Law

From: Marc Mauer

The Sentencing Project

We applaud the bipartisan introduction of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (S.1169) by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The JJDPA provides vital leadership and support to states in carrying out key juvenile justice functions, especially in reducing racial and ethnic disparities.

More than seven years overdue for reauthorization, the JJDPA is the only federal statute that establishes national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system and provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements. The JJDPA also supports programs and practices that have significantly contributed to the reduction of youth offending. We are pleased to see strengthened directives to the states regarding compliance with the core requirements of the Act, including:

A phase-out of the problematic valid court order exception that currently allows young people to be detained for status offenses (e.g. truancy).

An extension of current law to keep young people awaiting criminal trial out of adult facilities and ensuring sight and sound separation from incarcerated adults in the rare instance they are confined in adult facilities.

A requirement that states identify and reduce racial and ethnic disparities at all points of contact in the juvenile justice system. The bill lays out important steps that must be taken to achieve these reductions.

In particular, the requirement that states reduce racial and ethnic disparities is long overdue for reform. Until now, states have not been given sufficient guidance to understand the steps necessary to reduce racial inequality. Despite a drop in overall arrest rates nationally, black youth are still twice as likely to be arrested as white youth, and while black students make up 16% of all public school students, they make up 31% of all arrests. With this strengthened requirement, states will be motivated to take meaningful action to establish a fair system of justice for young people.

This bill embodies a partnership between the federal government and the U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia to protect children and youth in the juvenile and criminal justice system, to effectively address high-risk and delinquent behavior, and to improve community safety.


Marc Mauer