By Amanda Petteruti
While the U.S. Congress faces many tough choices in the 2012 budget, retaining funding for programs that save money and improve communities must be a priority. One example is the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). Since its passage in 1974, the JJDPA has established the protections that keep youth out of adult jails, separate from adults when jail is the only option, out of the juvenile justice system for behavior that would not be illegal for adults, and encourages states to reduce the number of youth of color that come into contact with the juvenile justice system. These protections have gone a long way to promote the well-being of youth across the country and sparked numerous programs and initiatives that not only keep communities safe, but also save taxpayers money.
The JJDPA consists of three funding streams that can affect all children, whether or not they are involved in the justice system. Title II State Formula Funding Grants Program supports states as they comply with the national standards of the JJDPA, which can include innovative strategies to improve the way delinquent behavior is handled, community-based alternatives to incarceration and other local efforts to re-engage youth in school and community. Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants Programs build prevention programs at the local level, and can include after-school programs, crisis counseling, mentoring, and alternatives to school suspension. Juvenile Accountability Block Grants provide judges, probation officers, case managers, and other professionals a range of responses to youth behavior to address the needs of youth who are involved in the justice system, which include community services, restitution, and mediation, among other interventions. Deep cuts to this funding like those proposed will jeopardize state efforts to prevent youth from coming into contact with the juvenile justice system and protect youth that are already in the system.
A recent poll conducted by Gerstein Bocian Agne shows that the American people support ideas behind the JJDPA and the programs and initiatives that come out of the funding associated with the JJDPA. According to the poll, 78 percent of Americans support prevention and rehabilitation rather than incarceration and punishment – signaling overwhelming support for the tenets of the JJDPA. Also, in lock-step with the JJPDA, U.S. adults also strongly support an array of reforms to the juvenile justice system, which include removing youth from adult jails and prisons, ensuring youth remain connected to their families, having independent oversight to protect youth who are in custody from abuse, increasing funds for public defense for youth, and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.
Youth rely on services funded through JJDPA to be successful in school and in their communities and to protect them if they do come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Total funding for the JJDPA already has been cut approximately 63 percent over the last decade. The reality of current economic struggles means that some tough choices must be made. While returning to 2002 funding levels is ideal, the Senate’s proposal to fund JJDPA at $108 million, while still a cut of one-third over last year’s budget, can maintain support for the most critical aspects of protecting youth and funding for the programs and initiatives that help them grow into healthy and productive adults.
Current and continuing economic challenges mean that we all need to make tough choices, but those choices should not be at the expense of youth.
Amanda Petteruti is JPI's Associate Director.