Juvenile Justice in DC (and Cupcakes in Georgia)

So here’s the deal: I really wanted to write a long and scholarly article about how Georgia’s flag-bearing posture for juvenile justice reform has so greatly influenced our elected friends in Washington D.C. that we can see national policy reflecting our state’s juvenile justice findings and values. I wanted to use graphs and data points, multi-syllabic words (like “multi-syllabic”) and catchy acronyms, plus a few high level non-profit-y phrases (thrown in for good measure) to illustrate how federal policy was finally catching up to all that stuff that we have worked so hard on here and with such success.

And then I found out that it was already 8:27 p.m. and I had two kids to feed and bathe, plus clean a bunny cage, make cupcakes for a class birthday party and assess how much mildew had formed on those clothes that I forgot in the washer about a week and a half ago. Once again, motherhood trumped academic aspirations. All that to say, lucky you! – because you are going to get the best and most abbreviated summary of federal juvenile justice policy ever written! Here goes…
Let’s just start by saying that short of a natural disaster, things in DC can move a little slowly compared to state stuff. Nevertheless, everything up there always boils down to two questions: “What can we do?” (That’s the “law” part of it), and “How much can we spend?” (That’s the “moolah” part of it).

For the “What can we do” question, the main policy superhero is the “Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act” (JJDPA – There’s that catchy acronym!) This little number’s authorization expired way back in 2007, about the same time that Apple introduced the first iPhone, the U.S. housing bubble burst, and everyone was trying to decide if the movie Shrek the Third was as funny as the first two Shreks. (Just for the record, I doubt those things are related). This Act was and remains one of the most successful standard-setting pieces of federal law, which attempts to prevent delinquency and lays out safeguards (called “core protections”) for those children and youth who do touch the juvenile justice system.

So, while that old version is still kicking around as far as law is concerned, the big news is that the new-and-improved 2015 JJDPA Reauthorization Act (S. 1169) is much better, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is super close to being voted on by the full Senate. This bill is awesome because, much like the work done here at home, it takes into account all the things we have learned in the last couple of decades about child and adolescent brain development, the use of data to drive policy and outcomes and the need for assessments, practices and programs that actually are proven to help reduce all kinds of discrimination (intentional or system-driven), reduce recidivism, and help kids grow into the happy and productive adults we know they can be. Click here to see highlights of the bill we are all waiting and hoping for.

For the “What can we spend” question, there is respectable progress in the Hallowed Halls as well. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act (Try saying that with a mouth full of marshmallows!). What this means is that the Senate committee recommended a total of $272 million for juvenile justice programs in FY17, including increases in the JJDPA Title II State Formula Grants and Title V Local Delinquency Prevention programs. Georgia gets over a million dollars a year from the JJDPA, so the fact that this recommendation supports and slightly increases last year’s overall amount is not only encouraging, but shows that Congress is starting to reliably understand the return on investment in developmentally appropriate policy in the juvenile justice arena. Yay Congress! Let’s just hope we can see that recommendation blossom into real bucks in the next fiscal year (sorry for the weird metaphor. I blame it on the bunny cage.). You can click here if you are just dying to eyeball a few more of the recommendation’s details, and scroll down for a nice summary.

Anyway, the cupcakes are burning and my children are now spotless, so I will wrap it up. I hope this was helpful, and I promise next time, I’ll be more professor-y and give you a good long white paper-like summary of federal legislation…that is, unless the rest of life gets in the way first.