Hello. I am Liz Ryan, the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, or OJJDP.
For many of us, the holiday season is all about spending time with our family and friends. Youth behind bars too often miss out on these celebrations with family—and their families are left missing them. During this festive time of year, it is important that we reflect on the critical needs of kids in confinement and the corresponding urgency of our work to improve the juvenile justice system.
Today, I’d like to highlight how OJJDP’s priorities are being implemented with funding to the field. OJJDP has established three priorities that will help us better meet the needs of young people. They are:
- Treating children as children.
- Serving children at home, in their communities, with their families; and
- Opening up opportunities for system-involved youth.
Running through these priorities are two essential principles: a commitment to pursue racial equity and fairness and a vow to listen to impacted young people and their families.
We have made a concerted effort to ensure that the funding we provide to states, localities, and Tribes directly supports these priorities.
First, when it comes to treating children as children, we are working to translate research into practice. Science on human development shows that young people can be impulsive and irresponsible—failing to understand the consequences of their actions. They need opportunities to learn and grow.
One of our primary funding vehicles is the Title II Formula Grants program. Formula grant funding allows states to provide direct assistance to young people who have been, or are at risk of becoming, involved in the juvenile justice system.
New in 2022, OJJDP is requiring at least 75 percent of a state’s formula grant funds to be spent on community-based alternatives to incarceration or on programs that promote positive youth development. This focus will ensure that these youth are given opportunities to change.
Our second priority is to serve children at home, in their communities, with their families. We are funding a Community-Based Alternatives to Youth Incarceration Initiative that will help jurisdictions close youth correctional facilities and reinvest resources in more effective community-based services.
In a similar vein, our Juvenile Justice System Reform and Reinvestment Initiative supports states as they implement programs to reduce recidivism. Closing the revolving door that brings too many young people back into the system again and again is crucial.
We also want to make sure that families stay together. Our Family-Based Alternative Sentencing program will use community supervision to help divert parents and caregivers from the prison system, promote family reunification, and keep children out of foster care.
Our final priority is opening up opportunities for system-involved youth. Juvenile justice practitioners must recognize and address the barriers to success that involvement with the system creates for youth. Our Formula Grants program, mentioned earlier, funds educational, social, and mental supports that youth in confinement need to build successful lives following release.
In 2022, we also launched an arts program for justice-involved youth. We want to unite juvenile justice providers and arts organizations to provide inspiration and motivation to children who need it most.
Our priorities are not just lofty talking points. They are a practical roadmap for improving the juvenile justice system.
When we build a system that meets children where they are, that responds to the real needs of youth and families, and that sees the value in all children—then we can deliver true justice and realize positive results.