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OJJDP News @ a Glance June 2024

The JJDPA’s 50th Anniversary Is an Opportunity To Transform the Juvenile Justice System, OJJDP Administrator Says

Diverse youth

OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan offered opening remarks at the 2024 Coalition for Juvenile Justice annual conference in Washington, DC, on May 30, calling on attendees to view the 50th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) as an opportunity to transform the juvenile justice system. This year also marks the Coalition’s 40th anniversary, she noted. 

“As we commemorate these milestones, together all of us need to continue to strive for more rights and opportunities for young people,” Administrator Ryan said.

When the JJDPA was enacted in 1974, it introduced significant changes to the treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system, Administrator Ryan noted. In particular, the law includes four core requirements: deinstitutionalizing youth charged with status offenses, removing youth from adult jails and lockups, separating youth from incarcerated adults, and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. 

Since then, the tide of reform has both receded and advanced, the Administrator continued. She referred to the 1990s, when states responded to a perceived surge in youth crime, and lawmakers’ subsequent recognition of the need to shift the juvenile justice system’s focus back to rehabilitation. She cited ongoing challenges, such as encouraging state systems to align with the latest research on adolescent brain development and emphasize prevention and offer alternatives to detention. 

To ensure states do not roll back critical reforms, “we must envision a better future,” Administrator Ryan said. To achieve that, juvenile justice practitioners must ask young people about their needs and create authentic partnerships with them. The field also needs to assess gaps in its youth policies and programs, and work together to invest in filling those gaps, she told conference attendees. 

Administrator Ryan underscored an OJJDP priority: developing a continuum of care that supports youth well-being and positive community outcomes. “If we want to support young people in their communities, with their families, we need to ensure that communities have a broad array of youth justice programs and services to meet the needs of different populations,” she said. 

Since its inception in 1984, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice has been a close partner of OJJDP in striving to meet the JJDPA’s core requirements. The Coalition is the national association of state advisory groups, organizations, and other allies dedicated to preventing youth from becoming involved in the courts and upholding the highest standards of care for youth who enter the justice system. 

At the conference’s closing plenary, “JJDPA 50th Anniversary: Appreciating Our History and Looking Towards the Future,” Administrator Ryan discussed the impact of the JJDPA and OJJDP’s plans to celebrate the landmark law’s golden anniversary. The JJDPA led to a significant decline in youth arrests, youth detention and youth incarceration. The number of youth in adult jails has dropped 85 percent since the 1970s, she added. 

Last year, OJJDP awarded the Coalition and the National Youth Justice Network a grant to help the Office reach out to youth justice organizations, impacted youth and families, and local leaders during the JJDPA’s 50th anniversary. They will award up to 100 “mini-grants” to other organizations for public outreach events and other activities between August and November 2024, to celebrate the anniversary and highlight Youth Justice Action Month in October. The celebration will culminate with OJJDP’s National Conference on Youth Justice from November 19–21 in Washington, DC.

Anniversary events are designed to build relationships among stakeholders, promote creative and innovative solutions, and inspire practitioners to tackle the most intractable challenges facing youth justice, Administration Ryan said.

Date Created: June 25, 2024