Statement of Neal Denton, Senior Vice President and Chief Government Affairs Officer, YMCA of the USA on efforts to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act

CHICAGO (Aug. 19, 2015)—As a national nonprofit community-based organization, the Y collaborates with a wide variety of local partners to nurture the potential of every child and teen. This includes teens that are involved, or at-risk of being involved, with the juvenile justice system.

The Y’s commitment to juvenile justice and delinquency prevention grows out of our driving concern with helping young people live more stable, fulfilling lives. Nationwide, Ys lead more than 1,100 programs in 500 cities that are dedicated to building positive futures for youth most at risk of coming into contact with the juvenile justice system. Y programs such as mentoring and youth workforce development seek to prevent juvenile delinquency while juvenile reentry/aftercare, gang intervention and diversion programs seek to help youth who have encountered the system to reclaim and reach their full potential.

Established in 1974, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) creates a federal-state partnership for the administration of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programs. The law contains critical protections to keep the youth who encounter the juvenile justice system in our communities safe and provides support for programs to prevent youth from entering the system. As a youth-serving organization committed to keeping all kids safe and healthy, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) urges Congress to consider the recommendations outlined below as efforts to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act progress.

1.    Ensure continued federal support for effective community-based programs that provide intensive, individualized services to youth most at risk of coming into contact with the juvenile justice system. These services should be evidence-based and developmentally appropriate.

Research overwhelmingly shows that support for community-based youth delinquency prevention and diversion programs improves public safety, saves taxpayer dollars and improves outcomes for kids who come into contact, or are at high-risk of coming into contact, with the juvenile justice system. Focusing federal investment on a continuum of evidence-based, developmentally appropriate community programs will promote positive youth development and keep children and communities safe while saving resources in the long-term.

2.    Reauthorize and adequately fund the JJDPA Title V grants program to support local community-based juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention efforts, including mentoring.  

JJDPA Title V Delinquency Prevention Grants are the only federal funding source dedicated solely to the prevention of youth crime and violence at the local level. To receive Title V grants, communities partner with local youth-serving organizations to provide innovative delinquency prevention programs including afterschool activities and mentoring, as well as initiatives to prevent truancy, school dropout, substance abuse and gang activity. These community-based organizations understand community needs and have expertise in meeting the needs of youth in a way that is developmentally and culturally appropriate.

Funding for Title V has been cut by more than 80 percent since the last JJDPA reauthorization in 2002 despite the decades of empirical studies that reveal that public dollars spent on effective prevention and early intervention programs reduces delinquency. Now is the time to ensure sufficient federal support for Title V in order to strengthen the long-term success of our nation’s next generation.

3.    Reduce overreliance on youth incarceration and out-of-home placement by supporting community, school-based and family-focused interventions for youth who commit status offenses and are at a high-risk for future involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Under current law, youth who commit status offenses such as truancy or curfew violation are able to be held in juvenile detention facilities due to a loophole in the law known as the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception. Evidence shows that removing youth from their schools, communities and families for committing these minor nonviolent offenses is both harmful to youth development and costly to taxpayers. Closing this loophole and instead providing these youth with community-based alternatives – including counseling and mentoring – is more effective than detention, which not only interrupts education, but contributes to children failing to return to school after release and future delinquency.

4.    Strengthen the JJDPA’s protections to ensure fairness and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.

Nationwide studies reveal that youth of color are highly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system despite the fact that delinquent behavior is committed by youth of all races with only modest differences in frequency and severity. While the JJDPA currently requires states to study and take steps to address the disproportionate contact of racial and ethnic minorities in the juvenile justice system, it does not provide guidance on how to implement this requirement or outline measurable objectives for change. Encouraging states and communities to employ more focused, data-driven approaches and to set clear, measureable and asset-based goals for reducing racial and ethnic disparities will provide a system that treats youth fairly and allows them equal opportunities to achieve positive long-term outcomes.

5.    Continue to encourage the membership and participation of community-based youth-serving organizations on state and local juvenile justice advisory groups and councils.

The participation of community-based youth-serving organizations acknowledges the important role they play as partners in improving outcomes for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. These organizations bring a deep understanding of the cognitive, physical, social and emotional needs of children. Community organizations also engage and collaborate with parents, community residents and other local partners. As such, their contributions can be integral in both the successful development and implementation of the JJDPA state plans.

The Y works every day to transform lives and strengthen communities. As one of the nation’s largest nonprofit providers of youth development programs, we believe that there is a strong role for community-based organizations in keeping all youth safe and reducing their likelihood of coming into contact with the juvenile justice system. These recommendations reflect this belief and the Y looks forward to working with Congress as it prepares to reauthorize the JJDPA.

About the Y

The Y is one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 22 million men, women and children – regardless of age, income or background – to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Anchored in more than 10,000 communities, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change.

Kelly Kennai Communications Director, Government Relations and Policy, YMCA of the USA (P) 800 932 9622 ext. 4736, (E) 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

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