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Progress in Strengthening Our Juvenile Justice System

Courtesy of Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

In proclaiming National Youth Justice Awareness Month last month, President Obama emphasized the importance of reforming our juvenile justice system to address the needs of youth who come into contact with it. Youth arrests have dropped significantly over the past decade, yet there were about one million youth arrests in 2014 alone.

We at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) are focused on preventing youth from entering the juvenile justice system. But if they come into contact with it, we want to ensure that contact is rare, fair and beneficial. We are working to narrow the entry points and providing funds for initiatives that support and protect youth and ensure a positive and supportive transition back into communities.

I am proud that the President once again recognized our Smart on Juvenile Justice initiative. Through this effort, we are promoting juvenile justice system reform and addressing racial and ethnic disparities. We are also expanding the use of community-based alternatives to youth detention and providing services such as job training and substance use disorder treatment and counseling for youth in juvenile facilities.

See our National Youth Justice Awareness Month page and watch my recent video to learn more about juvenile justice reform efforts at OJJDP.

The President pointed out that children of color, particularly African American and Hispanic males and Native American youth, continue to be overrepresented across all levels of the juvenile justice system. At OJJDP, we are working diligently to address the issue of disproportionate minority contact by funding education, research, training and technical assistance, and by creating resources for state and local governments to help eliminate racial and ethnic disparities.

Another critical effort that the President emphasized is banning the use of solitary confinement for youth in federal prisons. Reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of solitary confinement in juvenile justice facilities is an OJJDP priority. Too many youth are subjected to this punishment, which can lead to devastating long-term psychological consequences. We've partnered with the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators to develop a comprehensive toolkit to help states create alternatives to solitary confinement. And earlier this year, we participated in the launch of "Stop Solitary for Kids," a campaign to end this practice in juvenile and adult facilities. Moving forward, we will continue to work with state and local jurisdictions to eliminate its use.

Finally, we are working to address the role that trauma plays in shaping children's development and in influencing later involvement with the justice system. Children who end up in the juvenile justice system often have experienced trauma.

According to the most recent National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence funded by OJJDP, nearly 60 percent of children and youth were exposed to violence, crime or abuse, either as victims or as witnesses, in the previous year.

In October, we launched the Changing Minds campaign to support the needs of children affected by violence. This campaign not only educates adults about the problem, it also identifies solutions to help children heal. Additional information about the campaign can be found at ChangingMindsNOW.org.

The President's focus adds to what has been an exciting and productive year at OJJDP. Please stay tuned to OJJDP.gov and subscribe to our news services to learn more about how OJJDP is advancing juvenile justice system reform.

Date Published: November 9, 2016