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The NCJFCJ Applauds Updated Law to Modernize and Improve Federal Juvenile Justice System

News / NCJFCJ News / The NCJFCJ Applauds Updated Law to Modernize and Improve Federal Juvenile Justice System

With necessary updates and enhanced provisions to support and prioritize prevention and evidence-based programs, the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 reauthorizes and strengthens the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Today, President Donald Trump signed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018, which reauthorizes the Juvenile Justice, and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and supports state efforts to improve their juvenile justice systems, protect kids, and build safer communities.

“The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) thanks Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) for their leadership and tireless efforts to ensuring the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act Reauthorization was signed into law,” said Judge John J. Romero, Jr., NCJFCJ president. “The NCJFCJ has supported the JJDPA since its original enactment and today’s monumental action reauthorizing this important law is a pivotal step forward to supporting local and state efforts to prevent delinquency, create safer communities, and improve the juvenile justice system.”

President Gerald Ford first signed the JJDPA into law on September 7, 1974; it was last reauthorized in 2002 and has been awaiting reauthorization for more than a decade. The law remains the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system and provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements.

The NCJFCJ also applauds Congress for coming together and passing a much needed update to the law and for including a provision, championed by the NCJFCJ, which allows federal grants to support training and technical assistance for juvenile court judges and personnel. This is a significant step to advance education and resources for the judiciary so we are properly equipped to carry out the four core requirements of the JJDPA.

The reauthorization measure also includes needed updates to help guide juvenile justice professionals in our work to apply trauma-responsive practices. With up to 90 percent of justice-involved youth reporting exposure to some type of traumatic event, the NCJFCJ has worked tirelessly to support a trauma-responsive continuum of programs to address the needs of at-risk youth and those who come in contact with the juvenile justice system. Research has shown the improved understanding of brain development in children and youth, and reveals the negative outcomes for low-risk children who are detained.

In 2017, the NCJFCJ passed a resolution in support of the reauthorization and strengthening of the JJDPA and elimination of the valid court order exception as it is in the best interest of our nation’s children and committees.

As originally enacted, the JJDPA required states to stop incarcerating young people for status offense behaviors such as running away from home or skipping school. An exception to this rule was added in 1984, which permits states to securely detain youth when these behaviors are in violation of a valid court order.

“Historically, some courts have rationalized the use of detention in these cases by way of the valid court order exception as a means to teach the child a lesson, or because there are no other readily identifiable intervention options,” said Joey Orduna Hastings, NCJFCJ CEO. “However, using the valid court order exception has been a topic of debate within judicial circles and the juvenile justice field and has received increasing criticism from outside experts and agencies interested in juvenile justice system reform. While we support language in the updated law that seeks to limit states’  use of the VCO exception as a means of last resort, more work needs to be done at the state and federal level to ensure necessary reform and handling of status offenders.”

A cadre of judges across the nation has embraced the understanding that detention should not be used with low-risk offenders, and have actively avoided use of the valid court order in status offense cases. In fact in 2010, the NCJFCJ reversed its more than 30-year support of the valid court order and passed a resolution calling for eliminating the valid court order exception with the next reauthorization of the JJDPA. This decision was based on the current fund of knowledge about brain development and negative consequences of congregate care. Additionally, fundamental policy and practice changes in many jurisdictions demonstrate courts can safely eliminate the use of detention of youth involved in status offending behavior.

Although this reauthorization did not include the phase out of the valid court order exception, the NCJFCJ will continue its efforts with members of Congress, judges, and specific jurisdictions to achieve elimination of the valid court order exception and stands ready to support state courts in phasing out the valid court order through training and technical assistance.

The Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 will build upon these national standards by promoting the use of alternatives to incarceration and supporting the implementation of trauma-informed, evidence-based practices to help prevent juvenile delinquency. The bill also includes provisions that are designed to reduce the placement of youth in adult jails pre-trial, add more structure to the law’s requirement to decrease racial and ethnic disparities, eliminate dangerous practices in confinement, including eliminating the use of restraints on pregnant girls; improve conditions and educational services for incarcerated youth; focus on the particular needs of special youth populations such as trafficked youth and Tribal youth; and increase accountability.

For more NCJFCJ resolutions and policy statements, click here.

About the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ):

Founded in 1937, the Reno, Nev.-based National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, is the nation’s oldest judicial membership organization and focused on improving the effectiveness of our nation’s juvenile and family courts. A leader in continuing education opportunities, research, and policy development in the field of juvenile and family justice, the 2,000-member organization is unique in providing practice-based resources to jurisdictions and communities nationwide.

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