Washington, D.C. – Today, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The Grassley-Whitehouse bill would modernize America’s justice system with evidence-based practices for handling troubled youth and provide the federal leadership to promote effective juvenile justice systems. The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2007 but has not been substantively revised since 2002.
“Under this bill, states and local jurisdictions will make measurable, positive differences in the lives of youth who encounter the juvenile justice system, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project. “Recent events remind us that efforts toward racial justice are not nearly finished, but this bill moves us closer.”
In 2011, almost 1.5 million American youth were arrested, 95 percent of them for non-violent offenses.
One of the core requirements of the JJDPA is to address the disproportionate representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. While the current law requires states to address the racial disparities in the justice system, it provides little guidance on this mandate. Since the law was enacted in 1974, disproportionate minority contact has remained a constant feature of the juvenile justice system.
Under the new bill, states must take steps to reduce, rather than simply address, racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. States would now be required to:
- Form committees exclusively dedicated to overseeing and monitoring state efforts to lower racial and ethnic disparities.
- Analyze each decision point in the system so that appropriate policy, administrative, and programmatic changes are made.
- Implement accurate systems for identifying and recording youth race and ethnicity.
- Engage in routine data collection and analysis to guide the implementation of interventions to reduce racial disparities.
- Design and implement changes to address identified sources of racial and ethnic disparities.
- Report annual progress publicly.
While involvement in the juvenile justice system has decreased 30 percent nationally since 2002 for black youth as well as white youth, racial disparities have actually increased. Today, black youth are 4.6 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth.
Research shows that youth of color are subject to more punitive sanctions than white youth charged for the same offense, while evidence supports that youth of all races commit many offenses at similar rates. Similar racial disparities persist at every level of the juvenile justice system. This bill would provide necessary improvements to the law by requiring states to take practical steps to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.