Over 300 Groups from All 50 States Urge Passage of Juvenile Justice Bill Call on Congress to Pass Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act

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Over 300 organizations representing youth serving agencies, child advocacy organizations, legal and civil rights groups, health and mental health services, parent and family groups, and educational organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee supporting the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The bill, S. 678, to reauthorize the JJDPA is scheduled for markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 3, 2010.

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S. 678 extends the jail removal and sight and sound core requirements to keep youth awaiting trial in criminal court out of adult lock-ups and to ensure sight and sound separation in the limited circumstances where they are held in adult facilities.

Today, the Campaign for Youth Justice announced that over 300 organizations representing youth serving agencies, child advocacy organizations, legal and civil rights groups, health and mental health services, parent and family groups, and educational organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee supporting the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The bill, S. 678, to reauthorize the JJDPA is scheduled for markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 3, 2010.

Excerpt of letter:

Dear Senators Leahy, Sessions, Kohl, and Durbin,

On behalf of the organizations listed below, we are writing to express our strong support for S. 678, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009, which was introduced on March 24, 2009.

S. 678 strengthens and updates critical components of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has been protecting youth across the nation for over 30 years. S. 678 makes meaningful improvements that expand several of the core protections and other areas contained in the bill.

The bill responds to the following needs, identified by hundreds of state and local constituents and stakeholder organizations nationwide, with whom the Senators and their staff members have engaged and given voice in the process of crafting this legislation:

Core Protections:

  •             Strengthening the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) core protection: Research has documented that youth of color are disproportionately over-represented and subject to more punitive sanctions than similarly-charged/situated white youth at all levels of the juvenile justice system. S. 678 gives guidance to States on complying with the DMC core protection by listing specific steps toward reducing DMC, including identifying and analyzing key decision points to determine where disparities exist, collecting data, developing a work plan, and publicly reporting such efforts.
  •             Strengthening the Jail Removal and Sight and Sound core protection: Research shows youth confined in adult jails and lock-ups are more likely to re-offend upon release and while confined are at pronounced high risk of suffering assault and committing suicide. "S. 678 extends the jail removal and sight and sound core requirements to keep youth awaiting trial in criminal court out of adult lock-ups and to ensure sight and sound separation in the limited circumstances where they are held in adult facilities." While our recommendation is to remove all youth under age 18 from adult facilities and ensure sight and sound separation, S. 678 takes a good step in this direction.
  •             Allows States to continue to serve youth tried in adult court in juvenile facilities without jeopardizing federal funding: S. 678 would permit States to continue to house and rehabilitate youth convicted in adult court in juvenile facilities until they reach a State‚Äôs extended juvenile jurisdiction age. Previous interpretation and application of the law penalized States for utilizing these more appropriate and humane placements for youth.
  •             Strengthening the deinstitutionalization of status offenders (DSO) core protection:     Under current law, non-delinquent status offenders, such as children who are truant, runaway or violate curfew, alcohol and tobacco laws, may be held in juvenile lock-ups under the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception, which allows judges to issue detention orders. The practice persists despite evidence that securely detaining status offenders is harmful to pro-social development and is costly, especially when compared to more effective responses including shelter care, crisis counseling, family support, and/or community and school based interventions. S. 678 requires States that still permit the use of the exception to phase-out use of the VCO within three years, and allows States in need to apply for one-year hardship extensions through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Until VCO elimination, S. 678 provides extra safeguards for status offenders in locked facilities, including limits on how long status offenders may be detained. We would like to see the status offender provisions become stronger in terms of limiting length of stay in detention, ensuring that the status offenders are not subject to repeat detention orders and that hardship exception to the phase-out period are limited.

In light of the list above, we support this bill as a significant step towards improving the JJDPA and offer ourselves as a resource as the bill moves through the legislative process. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of youth across the country.

To view the complete letter and organizations that have signed on, please click on attachment or visit the Campaign for Youth Justice Web site.

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