With the rise of gang violence, shootings, drug crimes, murders, rapes, and other criminal activity, it is inevitable to notice how our youth are taking apart of said acts at a very young age. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act (JJDPA) was the beginning of the efforts to minimize juvenile delinquency in the United States. It was not only enacted for the prevention of crime, but also to better the treatment adolescents received in the justice system. Before JJDPA was passed the treatment of minors in prison facilities was similar to that of an adult and their legal rights were violated. They were thrown in prison with adults who committed more severe crimes despite their own being a less serious offense.
This law was signed in 1974 and was once again reauthorized in the following years with 2012 being the latest. It not only takes into account criminal patterns juvenile delinquents tend to have, but their development, environments, and behavior as well. JJDPA’s goal is to promote community programs and work together with individuals in the micro, mezzo, and macro level to find ways to reduce juvenile delinquency. Currently, advocates and the federal agency, The Office Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), are working to have the act revised and improved so that juveniles across the country can have fair treatment and legal rights.
The JJDPA has had a major influence on the decline of juvenile offenders in the United States over the years. Crime has grown in all areas especially in inner city neighborhoods and with few opportunities available the youth began to be apart of it all. In order to maintain a structured society something had to be done towards helping everyone leave behind their criminal lifestyle. We believe that guiding them into a lifestyle away from crime is not only in their best interest but in societies as well. Not only to they bring crime into our communities, but because many of them drop out “allowing 1 youth to leave school for a life of crime and of drug abuse costs society $1,700,000 to $2,300,000 annually”. Many juvenile offenders transfer into adulthood and continue the life of crime. There are many laws that work towards declining crime overall, but none really focused on declining juvenile delinquency before they become adult criminals. Some families have a history of being involved in crime therefore it is easy for the youth to see it as a normal lifestyle and because of that the cycle kept on being repeated.
For the safety and betterment of society the OJJDPA along with other legal representatives created the JJDPA. Before doing so, crime was high and rather than learning from their experiences in prison, the youth saw it as a way in which they could boost their reputation in their crime filled neighborhoods. Spending time in prison and jail started to become a norm and it became clear that something had to be done. As shown in the statistics of the OJJDP (2018), “the delinquency caseload fell to fewer than 1 million cases for the first time since the mid-1970s” (p.1) which only goes to show the importance and impact the JJDPA has not only on the youth, but on society as well. Thanks to it now more of America’s youth are living healthy flourishing lives.
As mentioned before, OJJDP provides funds to states through the JJDPA for programs, trainings, and research that aim at declining juvenile delinquency not only to get them on a good path, but to make them functioning members of society as well. In order to get funds for the prevention of delinquency states must follow the following four requirements: “sight and sound separation”, “jail removal”, “deinstitutionalization of status offenders”, and “disproportionate minority contact”. What is meant by “sight and sound separation” is that in under no circumstance should a juvenile, no matter their crime, be exposed to an adult inmate whether it be a cafeteria, recreational area, cell, or any other space within the prison. The reason being that juveniles can easily fall victims of the adults through a physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. In the reach of adult inmates, juveniles can be raped, beat, threatened, assaulted, etc. which only ends up harming them more.
Many juvenile delinquents grow up in a toxic environment where alcohol, drugs, violence, abuse, etc. was a norm therefore they didn’t develop like a common child would and more than likely have a mental illness. With this in mind, the JJDP prevents contact with adults who can cause harm by prohibiting sight, sound, and physical contact with them even if it means being cell neighbors. The second core requirement is “jail removal” which prohibits the imprisonment of juveniles in jails meant for adults, unless they were convicted in an adult court. This requirement is a further step to “sight and sound” because it distances the youth from adults with their safety and protection in mind.
Not only can them being thrown in to cells with adults bring harm to them, but they may cause it upon themselves as well. With most juvenile delinquents having mental disorders, the slightest cruel action towards them can result in them harming themselves through self harm or even suicide. The “deinstitutionalization of status offenders” is an example of how the country is progressing with the way in which it approaches its view on punishment. In the past, juveniles used to be imprisoned for committing acts that wouldn’t be considered as a crime if an adult were to have been the one to do it. These “crimes” include the possession of alcohol, skipping, skipping their curfew, etc. Now, if a juvenile were to commit said acts another approach is taken rather than automatically imprisoning them for a long time. Some of the alternatives provided that allow the youth to stay with their family are counseling, alternative schooling, mentoring and treatment in order to get them back on track. In many cases, taking a rehabilitation approach towards the youths recovery has a much better outcome than taking one which only serves as a punishment. “Disproportionate minority contact” addresses the representation issue most states face.
People of color tend to be highly represented in the legal system no matter the age group being observed and the youth are no exception. According to “The Coalition for Juvenile Justice”, the youth of color receive tougher sentences and are more likely to be incarcerated than white youth for the same offenses. Not only are their chances of being imprisoned higher, but their punishments can be more severe and this act works on putting an end to the gap while demanding the youths equal treatment.
Although the JJDPA has shown its success in the decline of juvenile crime, like other policies it should be improved to further bring down crime rates. As seen through the core requirements, the policy focuses on the treatment and guidance of the youth while IN prison and doesn’t really address the issues that lead to their lifestyle. We feel like in order for the policy to have full potential it should not only address the issues within prison, but the before and after factors as well. With this in mind, we would like the policy to allow professionals to work with other juveniles who present the same signals that suggest they can end up in the path of crime.
How can we put an end to delinquency when we don’t address the issues that even start them? Many of the imprisoned youth all have the same background, broken families, substance abuse, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, mental illness, and a huge amount of them more than likely dropped out of school before they ended up in prison. We would like the policy to allow more funds to states so that more programs can be developed in schools and communities. By providing help and activities to the youth, they serve as a distraction to stray them away from criminal behavior. In America, our youth spend about eight or nine hours at school between Monday and Friday therefore it is no shock that the people they surround themselves in school have a major influence in their development into adulthood. It would be in the youths best interest that the OJJDP starts working with school boards to ensure that the staff working in our schools have the potential not only to teach up to date curriculum, but also for them to have the patience and desire to push students to reach their full potential. Another way we feel this policy can be improved is by ending the belief that juvenile delinquents should attend alternative schools because their label of being trouble makers will follow them into adulthood.
As humans, especially young ones, the last thing we want is to be labeled in a negative manner and rather than helping them better themselves we might cause them to want to live up to the expectations. Not only so, but if their development as productive members of society is in our interests, then why are they being alienated from the rest of their classmates? When will they ever learn the importance of getting along and working with others if they are to be isolated? If we want to teach them socialization skills then they must be included in the normal everyday activities the rest of our youth do.
With the current JJDPA in place and our suggestions there is no doubt in mind that the rate of juvenile delinquency will continue to decrease. All of this is done with the goal of making juvenile delinquents flourishing members of society. We strive to end the unequal treatment of the youth in prison simply because of their age and ethnicity. Overall, our goal is to meet the needs the youth have before, during, and after their criminal lifestyle.