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The Juvenile Justice System
In the United States, there is no national, centralized juvenile justice system. Rather, there are more than 56 different juvenile justice systems independently operated by the U.S. States, territories, the District of Columbia, and local governments. Consequently, policies and procedures vary widely from state to state and among local jurisdictions, creating a patchwork quilt of juvenile justice systems resulting in inconsistent outcomes for youth, families, and communities, including youth exposure to physical, mental, and emotional injury. To address inconsistencies and to improve outcomes for youth and community safety, in 1974 Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and changed the way in which states approach juvenile justice.
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
Most recently reauthorized in 2002 with bipartisan support, the JJDPA is based on a broad consensus that children, youth, and families involved with the juvenile and criminal courts should be guarded by federal standards for care and custody, while also upholding the interest of community safety and the prevention of victimization. The JJDPA creates a federal-state partnership for the administration of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention by providing:
- juvenile justice planning and advisory system, establishing State Advisory Groups (SAGs), spanning all states, territories and the District of Columbia;
- Federal funding for deqlinquency prevention and improvements in state and local juvenile justice programs; and
- Operation of a federal agency (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)) dedicated to training, technical assistance, model programs, and research and evaluation, to support state and local efforts.
The JJDPA also sets forth federal standards to ensure a minimum level of safety and equitable treatment for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. To be eligible for the funds provided under the JJDPA, each state must comply with four core requirements/protections:
- Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO);
- Adult Jail and Lock-Up Removal (Jail Removal);
- Sight and Sound Separation; and
- Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC).
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
The JJDPA also established the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). In order for the federal government to function as a responsive and responsible partner with all states under the JJDPA, it is critical that juvenile justice have a dedicated focus and a "home" within the federal government, distinct from a larger focus on criminal justice. OJJDP is the only federal agency charged solely with fulfilling this role.