The Juvenile Court and JJDPA

The juvenile court movement grew over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to provide treatment for young offenders that differed greatly from the punitive measures imposed on adult criminals. The nature of childhood and adolescence, advocates argued, lessen a young person’s responsibility for their actions, and reformers aimed to provide juvenile delinquents with services, meaningful rehabilitation, and protection from the corrupting influence and dangers of the adult criminal justice system.

In 1974, 75 years after the establishment in Cook County, Illinois, of the first juvenile court, the federal government enacted JJDPA.2 At present, JJDPA guides juvenile justice policy through the establishment of:

  • The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)

  • The Federal Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

  • Grants to States and units of local government, administered by OJJDP

  • State Advisory Groups (SAGs), which develop juvenile justice policy in the States

  • Four core requirements that State juvenile justice systems must meet in order to receive full funding under the law, which comprise:

    • Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders : Requires that juveniles who commit status offenses (those acts that would not constitute a criminal act if committed by an adult, including truancy, running away from home, possession of tobacco products, etc.) not be held in secure detention facilities

    • Jail Removal : Requires that juveniles not be held in adult detention or lockup facilities

    • Sight and Sound Separation : Requires that juveniles not be detained in a facility in which they might come into contact with adult prisoners

    • Disproportionate Minority Contact : Requires efforts to reduce the disproportionate number of minorities held in secure detention or correctional facilities

Each reauthorization of JJDPA presents a renewed opportunity to discuss the nature of juvenile offending, whether it differs fundamentally from adult criminality, and if any such difference ought to impact the response to juvenile delinquency. These considerations correspond to tensions between reform efforts that seek to make juvenile justice more rehabilitative and those promoting a more punitive and sanction-based approach.

References

1. Geraghty, T. F. & Drizin, S. A. (1997). The Debate Over the Future of the Juvenile Courts: Can We Reach Consensus? Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88, 1-13.

2. Congressional Research Service (2007). Juvenile Justice: Legislative History and Current Legislative Issues. Washington, DC: United States Congress.

3. P.L. 93-415.

4. Congressional Research Service (2007). Juvenile Justice: Legislative History and Current Legislative Issues. Washington, DC: United States Congress.