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Monday, August 3, 2015

Senate Bill Aims to Reduce Youth Incarceration

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Act of 2015, introduced by Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The bill aims to reduce youth interactions with the juvenile justice system.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was passed in 1974 as a safeguard for youth who entered the juvenile justice system, and to assist local governments with juvenile justice program. This particular bill would reauthorize the JJDPA that expired in 2007 and would:

  • Require the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to identify best practices to serve and protect at-risk youth;
  • Call for a greater focus on mental health and substance abuse;
  • Expand training to support judges who work with juvenile cases;
  • Phase out remaining circumstance in which youth offenders may be detained for “status” offenses, which would not be crimes if committed by adults;
  • Offer guidance on identifying and reducing racial and ethnic disparities among youth in the juvenile justice system, and creating safeguards to improve juvenile reentry services; and
  • Improve transparency and accountability.

Studies have shown that youth who experience incarceration at an early age are far more likely to be re-incarcerated throughout their life. The JJDPA is a key step in the overall fight to reduce mass incarceration and the criminalization of youth, especially those of color.

Although incarceration of youth has decreased overall, mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline still disproportionately affect youth of color and LGBT youth at alarming rates. LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system: they make up just 5 percent to 7 percent of the overall youth population, but represent 15 percent of those in the juvenile justice system. Among Black transgender people, nearly half (47%) have been incarcerated at some point—mirroring the stark racial disparities in all systems of incarceration. The mass incarceration of Black and Latino men has been researched and talked about at length, but research on the rates of incarceration of girls and gender nonconforming youth of color remains scant.

Mass incarceration of all people must end and restorative justice - the focus on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and a larger community - must become the default for rehabilitation of youth who have engaged in criminal acts. Specifically, no youth should be held in adult prisons and the school to prison pipeline must end. We therefore must ensure that transgender and non-binary youth are housed safely, and in a way that affirms their gender.

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