The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has proposed a long overdue update to the federal regulations under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), last reauthorized in 2002. The JJDPA sets four core requirements for state juvenile justice systems in order to ensure safety and equal treatment for youth. The core requirements address: the deinstitutionalization of status offenders, adult jail and lock-up removal, sight and sound separation, and disproportionate minority contact (DMC). In order to be eligible for JJDPA funds, states must comply with the core requirements. As a result of the last review of regulations in 1996, state non-compliance rates decreased 99 percent from the 1990s to 2013. The proposed regulations aim to further improve state compliance with the JJDPA to ensure youth in custody are protected, that states are addressing racial and ethnic disparities, and that federal resources are being used to effectively improve the juvenile justice system and public safety. At Voices for Children, we strongly support these aims.
Worth noting, though, that this update to the regulations proposes a new system that determines state compliance based on a numeric rate. The OJJDP created these numeric benchmarks based on how the best states are performing—all other states must reach these rates in order to be compliant and receive funding for their juvenile justice systems. Numeric standards are unprecedented in Department of Justice programs because they provide less flexibility for states.
Under these proposed standards, 48 states would be considered out of compliance with one or more of the core requirements. According to the proposal, Nebraska is in compliance with the new standards concerning status offenders and jail removal but is not in compliance with standards regarding separation of minors from adult inmates. Nebraska policymakers should take every step to ensure that incarcerated minors are separated from adults; however, this update would provide little time for Nebraska and 47 other states to come into compliance before losing funding.
This proposal also provides an updated model for addressing disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the juvenile justice system. DMC refers to racial and ethnic disparities that occur in all parts of the juvenile justice system from more frequent arrests of youth of color to harsher sentencing. Nebraska continues to struggle with disproportionate minority contact, and it is vital that our state address the disparities that increase as children of color are pushed deeper into our justice system.
Though the proposed regulations would increase state requirements to respond to DMC, states would not receive more resources and assistance to implement all five phases in the reduction model. Without further assistance states like Nebraska that are already struggling would be able to identify racial and ethnic disparities but may not have the needed resources to meet the new requirements.
While we strongly support the aims of the JJDPA and the goal of further improving the juvenile justice system overall, we worry that without increase funding and technical assistance, the proposed regulations could have the unintended effect of turning states away from participating with the JJDPA, or result in lost federal funding for programs that have proved effective in Nebraska to reduce our numbers of incarcerated children and keep kids who haven’t committed crimes out of the juvenile justice system.
The period for public comment on the regulations is open until Friday, October 7, and we encourage you to share your own thoughts with the Justice Programs Office here.