Organizations Urge Focus on Prevention and Federal Protections for Children in the Justice System


Sept. 23, 2012

Sheila Reed,
Voices for Vermont’s Children

Organizations urge focus on prevention and federal protections for children in the justice system

(Montpelier, Vermont) – This week, youth, parents, juvenile justice practitioners, community groups, and others called on Senator Patrick Leahy to ensure adequate federal funding for vital juvenile justice programs and to maintain strong federal standards to protect children in the justice system, promote effective local delinquency prevention efforts, and increase public safety.

Cuts to this funding will lead to more children in dangerous, costly lock-ups, greatly increasing risks of suicide, sexual and physical abuse, and disconnection from family, positive support, education and the workforce.

“It is critical that Congress continue to invest federal funds to support our juvenile justice system and delinquency prevention efforts.” says Bob Sheil, Supervising Attorney in the office of the Juvenile Defender. “This relatively modest federal investment is essential to ensure strong federal protections for children in the justice system by keeping them out of adult jails and prisons, improving safety for children in custody, increasing fairness by reducing racial and ethnic disparities, and providing appropriate rehabilitative services through effective community-based alternatives to detention and incarceration. The funding also supports critical prevention efforts to keep kids out of the criminal justice system on the right track.”

This week, Vermont groups called on Senator Leahy to support minimum federal funding levels in three key juvenile justice programs as proposed by the Administration earlier this year:

• $70 million for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) Title II State Formula Grants Program;
• $40 million for the JJDPA Title V Delinquency Prevention Program with no earmarks; and
• $30 million for Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) Program.

The U.S. House has proposed dramatic cuts for juvenile justice programs, cutting Title II dollars and eliminating all funding for the Title V and JABG programs. Senate appropriators have put an improved proposal on the table, but it would still result in reduced funding for states. In addition, the budget sequester scheduled to occur in January 2013 could pile on more than $7 million additional cuts to these key programs.

“We urge Senator Leahy to work with his/her colleagues in Congress to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction, reject additional cuts to juvenile justice programs, and work to adopt funding levels for Title II, Title V, and JABG as close as possible to those included in the President’s budget, and no less than the levels proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee” says Sheila Reed, Associate Director of Voices for Vermont’s Children. “These cuts would have devastating impacts in Vermont, particularly on state implementation of the core protections under the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).”

In Vermont federal funding through these grants have been used to fund:
• The DEAP-VT program which introduced a screening tool to help system officials decide how and whether a youth will be charged for a low-level offense.
• Workforce training of youth service and treatment professionals
• Restorative Family Group Conferencing
• Truancy intervention (in 2009 reduced absences among youth served by 78%)

ABOUT JJDPA: Signed into law on September 7, 1974, and most recently authorized 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 interests of community safety and the prevention of victimization. The JJDPA includes four core protections: keeping status offenders out of secure facilities, keeping youth out of adult facilities (with limited exceptions), separating those youth who are in adult facilities (under the limited exceptions) from adult offenders by both “sight” and “sound,” and assessing and addressing the disproportionate contact that minority youth have with the justice system.

One of the JJDPA’s core protections for children is the Jail Removal provision which requires that states not place children in adult jails and lockups (with limited exceptions). This provision has been in federal statute since 1980 when there were an estimated 300,000 children in adult jails and lock ups annually throughout the country. This core protection has effectively stopped the placement of hundreds of thousands of children in adult jails and lock ups every year.

The letter sent to the Senator was signed by 65 Vermonters, a mix of lawyers, public defenders, representatives from several non-profit organizations, including Voices for Vermont’s Children, Spectrum Youth and Family Services, The Howard Center, Mary Johnson Children’s Center, Womensafe, and others. For more information or to see the letter and complete list of signors, please contact Sheila Reed at (802)229-6377.