Looking Ahead: What Should OJJDP, Policymakers Do for Juvenile Justice?

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Jim MoeserJuvenile justice policy at the federal level is in a state of uncertainty right now. Advocates and practitioners, heartened by the introduction of the REDEEM Act this summer by bipartisan sponsors, have been anxiously awaiting a new effort to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the federal legislation that guides juvenile justice policy throughout the country.

However, the future of both pieces of legislation is uncertain, at best. Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder’s planned resignation has cast a shadow over the future of the Department of Justice’s audacious efforts to use its law enforcement authority to fight unfair, racially biased practices at the local level over school discipline and with respect to access to due process in juvenile court.

All this is why it mattered more than usual when, two weeks ago, state authorities on juvenile justice from across the country posted a report and recommendations for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) on federal juvenile justice policy and the work of OJJDP itself.

The recommendations were made by the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ) in its 2013 Report. The committee, made up of representatives from state advisory groups on juvenile justice, is appointed by OJJDP to review federal policies regarding juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, and to advise the OJJDP administrator and other policymakers on the agency’s work and on any relevant federal legislation. Following the committee’s reorganization in late 2011, FACJJ members identified issues to work on from 2012 to 2013, and approved final recommendations in December 2013.

Key recommendations to OJJDP and federal policymakers include:

  1. Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, including providing additional funding to properly implement the vision and supports provided to OJJDP and the states to fulfill the promise of a stronger and revitalized JJDPA.
  2. Continue to identify best and effective practices to prevent delinquency and work with youth in trouble with the law and their families, including broadening the perspective on results to include a stronger focus on positive youth development outcomes; increased collaboration across federal departments working with youth; increased training and technical assistance and research-to-practice; and improved research on promising practices that may not readily fit the “evidence-based” mold.
  3. Increase the voice of youth at all levels of policymaking in the juvenile justice system. This applies to strengthening youth voice within OJJDP as well as helping states and other key stakeholders improve their engagement of youth in authentic and meaningful decision-making.
  4. Work to improve educational outcomes for system-involved youth, including replacing exclusionary discipline practices with practices that engage and support school achievement and success for all youth. This needs to be a focus of OJJDP and an area of collaboration with other agencies.
  5. Reduce racial and ethnic disparities evident in the system and the harmful impacts of the system on youth of color, including sharpening the focus of federal grant programs (e.g. for law enforcement in particular) to include goals that address these disparities, improving cross-system collaboration, and doing a better job of educating our communities about the harmful impacts of racial and ethnic disparities on our communities as a whole.

The good news? OJJDP, reinvigorated under Administrator Robert Listenbee’s leadership, has already begun to incorporate key recommendations from the FACJJ report into its work plan, which the committee will discuss with him at the next FACJJ meeting, on Oct. 20-21.

Hopefully, others in the field will add the FACJJ recommendations to the growing chorus of researchers and advocates who understand the importance of building on the foundation of values that led to passage of the JJDPA 40 years ago.

Jim Moeser is deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. He is the chair of the FACJJ, which did not read or approve this post.

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