Courtesy by Robert L. Listenbee, OJJDP Administrator
Here at OJJDP, we are committed to improving juvenile justice policies and practices. Every day, we look for opportunities to strengthen the juvenile justice system’s efforts to protect public safety, provide the appropriate services to meet the needs of our nation’s youth, and ensure that young people who come in contact with the system are treated fairly.
I was thrilled when President Barack Obama proclaimed October 2015 as National Youth Justice Awareness Month, which highlighted our mission to a larger audience.
In his proclamation, the President recognized our Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative. This initiative—a collection of juvenile justice programs—lies at the heart of what we do at OJJDP. By leveraging public-private partnerships, we’re working to assist states in adopting a data-driven and evidence-based approach to juvenile justice reform.
I’m proud that the work of our office is being lifted up by the White House, particularly at a time when many young people are in need of assistance.
Every year, there are more than 1 million arrests of youth younger than 18, and the vast majority of those arrests are for nonviolent crimes. More than 54,000 individuals younger than 21 are being held in juvenile justice facilities nationwide—a disproportionate number of whom are young people of color. And, girls represent the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system, with girls of color particularly affected by this trend.
The good news is the number of young people in residential placement was cut in half from 1999 to 2013. However, despite this overall decline, the placement rate for youth of color was 2.7 times that of white youth in 2013. Overall, minority youth accounted for 68 percent of the youth in residential placement.
Our Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative has experienced great success in its first year, and in our March/April newsletter we shared an update on the impact it’s having locally.
Partnering with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, three states—Georgia, Hawaii, and Kentucky—have implemented statewide juvenile justice reforms that are producing positive results.
In just one year, Georgia reduced the number of youth in confinement by 62 percent. Youth held in secure facilities declined by 14 percent, and the number of youth in detention fell from 269 to 157.
It is our goal for more states to replicate the success of Smart on Juvenile Justice and focus less on detention or out-of-home placement and more on early intervention, diversion, and community-based programs.
For more information on the Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative, please watch my video message where I discuss the initiative and some of the encouraging results we’ve seen thus far.
Although National Youth Justice Awareness Month is dedicated to preventing youth from entering the juvenile justice system and encouraging communities to participate in activities that help youth fulfill their greatest potential, the work here at OJJDP continues year-round.