How the Government is Quietly Promoting Juvenile Justice Reform

Why Juvenile Justice Reform Is So Necessary

The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) processed over 13,000 new juvenile crime cases statewide in 2017. This caseload represents a 13 percent drop in the new cases filed in the previous year.

Policymakers believe filings will decrease further, thanks to nationwide reforms approved in 2018. Want to learn more about these changes? Then check out this article on the latest juvenile justice reform efforts.

These new laws will reduce how many youths are in our local jails. These new laws will create safer communities. They will also improve our juvenile justice system.

Overview of Our Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice legal system addresses crimes done by minors between 10 to 18 years. In the juvenile system, judges hear those cases in a separate court environment. Juveniles in this system are not punished as adults.

Some states transfer juvenile offenders to the adult criminal system. This transfer depends on the severity of their offense.

All states will have their own requirements and procedures for these transfers. For example, you can find out more from this article. You’ll learn how Texas refers their juvenile offenders to the criminal legal system.

What is the Juvenile Reform Act of 2018?

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was first passed in 1974. This act outlines standards to protect families and their children in custody. These laws also aim to prevent juvenile abuse and uphold community safety.

The JJDPA created the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This agency provides training and technology support to state and local agencies. The JJDPA also created a funding source to help improve juvenile programs in each state.

The JJDPA addresses four main policy areas:

Adult Jail Removal

These policy areas address goals for removing juveniles from adult detention facilities. Research shows that adult inmates are more likely to attack juveniles with weapons. Juveniles in these facilities are also more likely to commit suicide.

Detaining Juvenile Status Offenders

Juveniles become a status offender when charged with committing crimes that aren’t crimes when carried out by adults. Examples of these offenses include running away or consuming tobacco or alcohol. The JJDPA outlines alternatives to incarcerating juveniles for these specific types of offenses.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities

This section contains guidelines for individual statewide justice systems. These guidelines help states end racial or ethnic inequality from their own systems.

Sight/Sound Separation

These are standards for juveniles in adult jails or other institutions. These standards ensure that juveniles won’t have contact with other adult inmates

2018 JJDPA Juvenile Justice Reforms

The 2018 changes to the JJDPA Act include:

Detaining Juvenile Status Offender Policy Area

Status offenders who violate court orders can still stay in adult facilities. But now these stays can last for no more than seven days. In their orders, the court must now show the following:

  • Identify the court order violated
  • Outline the reasons why and how the status offender violated the original order
  • Outline the arguments why there isn’t anywhere else to locate the juvenile. These arguments will depend on the severity of their violation
  • Specify how much time a status offender should stay in the correctional facility, and
  • Identify what the future steps are to release the status offender from the facility.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities Policy Area

States must now collect and analyze their own data on racial as well as ethnic gaps. States must also establish criteria on when a racial and ethnic gap exists.

Once a state identifies any gaps, they should say how their plans will address this gap. These plans must include measurable outcomes. These outcomes should address those needs identified in their data.

Sight/Sound Separation Policy Area

States must now provide sight/sound separation for all youth in adult jails. States can apply for an exception to these new requirements. They must find how keeping the juvenile in an adult facility promotes justice.

Rationale Behind JJDPA Changes

Legislators made direct changes to the Sight/Sound separation policy section. These changes address the ongoing need to keep juveniles out of adult prisons.

They pointed to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC reports that juveniles transferred to adult jails are more likely to re-offend. These re-offend rates are as high as 34 percent.

Lawmakers also supported changes to the detaining status offenders statutes. These changes are necessary to manage nationwide costs.

Costs for keeping offenders in juvenile facilities range between $32,000 and $60,000 per year. Costs for keeping juveniles in adult facilities can cost taxpayers $75,000 per year.

The JJDPA changes also establish continue funding for local delinquency prevention programs. Legislators note that these programs are vital for status offenders.

Offenses from these juveniles are more often a red flag. These offenses usually underlie family or personal problems or other unmet needs.

JJDPA changes also support options to adult incarceration. The law also promotes the use of alternatives to incarceration. It establishes funding to build on existing delinquency prevention programs for youth.

Next Steps

Juvenile legal system reform is possible. There needs to be a uniform system between state and federal service providers. These service providers must work together to support any future success.

The new JJDPA provisions can improve children’s lives. They do this by ensuring consistent treatment and promote fairness. Education can only unite State and Federal stakeholders to move these initiatives forward.

Take a moment to call your local legislator. Let them know how important an initiative like this can improve your community.

You can read the final version of all these JJDPA changes here. Familiarize yourself with these important legislative changes today. Let your leaders know how important these changes are to South Carolina’s future success.

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