By Liz Ryan, OJJDP Administrator
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, known as JJDPA, was carefully crafted to both prevent delinquency and improve the juvenile justice system nationwide. The Act established the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). This September, the Act—and our Office—turned 49 years old. That is 49 years of supporting local, state, and Tribal efforts to protect youth, strengthen families, and enhance community safety.
OJJDP envisions a nation where all children are free from crime and violence, and where youth contact with the justice system is rare, fair, and beneficial. This vision reaffirms the original intent of the Act and is rooted in decades of research and best practices.
Transforming Juvenile Justice
As we mark this milestone, I want to highlight how far we have come as a field—and how essential our work remains. From mentoring to child protection—and from combating gangs to supporting juvenile justice innovations—OJJDP has spent nearly 50 years working with our many partners to enhance the welfare of America’s youth.
Each year, OJJDP awards hundreds of millions of dollars in grant funding nationwide to support juvenile justice reforms, prevent child exploitation and abuse, and improve outcomes for youth. In fiscal year 2022 alone, we awarded more than 370 grants totaling more than $405 million in discretionary and formula grant funds to states, Tribal communities, and local jurisdictions to help safeguard youth and prevent delinquency.
Defining Principles and Priorities
OJJDP is taking concrete steps to reform the youth justice system and enhance the welfare of America’s youth. These steps are laid out in our principles and priorities.
OJJDP is guided by two overarching principles: 1) a commitment to racial equity and fairness, and 2) a promise to partner with youth and families who are directly impacted by the juvenile justice system. To better meet the needs of youth and families, we have outlined three key priorities. We aim to transform the justice system into one that: 1) treats children as children, 2) serves youth at home, with their families and in their communities, and 3) provides opportunities for young people who come into contact with the system.
Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities
The first step to addressing racial and ethnic disparities is transparency. OJJDP added the Racial and Ethnic Disparities (R/ED) National Data Book back to our website. We have also engaged the National Center for Juvenile Justice to provide training and technical assistance to states on how to collect data, so that we can ensure we are monitoring and tracking progress to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.
Partnering with Youth and Families
Centering impacted youth and families—by engaging them as partners and empowering them to share their valuable insights—is crucial to reforming juvenile justice systems. Last year, OJJDP created a youth and family working group to promote partnerships with impacted youth and their families. In every solicitation we release, OJJDP has added language urging prospective grantees to include in their grant applications how they are working with youth and families.
Treating Children Like Children
Young people are fundamentally, developmentally different from adults and should be treated as such by the juvenile justice system. OJJDP programs are helping to ensure that children are diverted from adult courts and facilities and that they receive services they need to help them succeed. We continue to expand our robust mentoring efforts to ensure that more children have positive role models. OJJDP is also working to increase youth access to juvenile indigent defense and addressing training need of juvenile prosecutors.
Keeping Children in Their Communities
Community-based programs have the potential to positively impact youth behavior and reduce reoffending, resulting in safer communities. OJJDP is dedicated to keeping children at home with their families, in their communities. Secure confinement should be reserved only for young people who pose a serious risk to community safety. OJJDP is also helping states address specific reform challenges to reduce recidivism and reinvest funds into prevention and intervention programs.
Providing Opportunities for Youth in the Justice System
Youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system should have significant and meaningful opportunities, just like any other young person. This year, for the first time, OJJDP funded mentoring services to help youth involved in the system stay in school, address substance use issues, and avoid further system involvement. We also fund Second Chance reentry programs to help close the revolving door that has many young people returning to the system instead of reclaiming their lives.
For nearly five decades, OJJDP and its many partners have worked to protect youth and provide more opportunities for a better future. Our work is not done, but we are making a difference. As we move forward with a renewed focus on listening to youth and families and meeting children where they are, I have no doubt that the coming years will be filled with progress. OJJDP looks forward to working with its diverse stakeholders to bolster our greatest natural resource: our youth.