Celebrating 40 Years of Working Together for Youth Justice and Safety

September 8, 2014

This post appears courtesy of Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs.

On September 7, 1974, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was signed into law. This landmark legislation established the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and forever changed the way states and communities deal with at-risk youth and those who are involved in the juvenile justice system.

Thanks to the hard work and enlightened vision of our Office’s many partners in the juvenile justice field, I am happy to report that our nation has made significant strides in ensuring justice and safety for youth, families, and communities.

Today, violent crime arrest rates for youth are at their lowest point since at least 1980. Between 1997 and 2011, the population of youth in residential placement declined by 42 percent, and the number of youth in residential placement for committing status offenses like violating curfew, running away from home, and underage drinking has decreased by 64 percent.

States are enacting policies and strategies to promote alternatives to incarceration, divert youth from detention and secure state-run facilities, and reinvest in community-based services because research has shown that youth who have committed nonviolent offenses are better served—and public safety is more effectively promoted—through community-based services rather than detention and incarceration.

While this progress is certainly cause for celebration, we must continue to vigilantly address the challenges ahead and seize the opportunities before us to improve outcomes for youth while maintaining public safety

One major challenge we continue to face is that two out of every three youth in the United States who are currently in custody are there for nonviolent offenses. Another challenge to be addressed is the rate of confinement for minority youth. Nationwide, the residential placement rate for black youth in 2011 was nearly five times the rate for white youth. The rate for American Indian/Alaska Native youth was more than three times and the rate for Hispanic youth was nearly twice that for white youth.

At the same time, recent advances in scientific and evidence-based practices have given us a clear roadmap for reform. Research has shown that most youth grow out of risk-taking behavior as they mature. Because their brains are still developing, young people are more capable of rehabilitation than adults. We have also realized that many youth who come into contact with our juvenile justice system have long histories of exposure to violence, crime, and abuse. We understand far more now than we did even five years ago about the effects of trauma on the developing brain and how best to intervene in a child’s life before permanent damage can be done.

We are very optimistic about what lies ahead. We embrace the rising tide of system reform and transformation we are seeing in states across our nation. Our Office is working vigorously with all of our partners in the field to more fully incorporate the science of adolescent development and trauma into juvenile justice reform.

Let us continue to build on this momentum.

Working together, we will forge a future in which justice and safety are a fact of life for all our nation’s children.

For additional 40th anniversary resources from OJJDP, visit www.ojjdp.gov/JJDPAis40.html

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Updated September 17, 2014