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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

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Washington, DC 20530

May 2023 | Volume 16 | Issue 5

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is a component of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs (OJP). OJJDP is committed to transforming the juvenile justice system to promote the welfare of all youth via three guiding priorities: (1) Treat children as children. (2) Serve children at home, with their families, and in their communities. (3) Open up opportunities for system-involved youth.

Heartbreaking headlines describe atrocities young people have suffered while confined in juvenile detention, from physical and sexual abuse to death by suicide. Hundreds of other tragedies fail to make the headlines, such as kids who don’t receive a proper education while incarcerated or the ones released without housing in place, who wind up homeless and must resort to breaking the law to eat and find shelter.

Young people who break the law must be held accountable for their wrongs, but incarceration is seldom the answer. Too often, youth confinement succeeds only in damaging young people and diminishing their chances for a healthy, productive future. Serving justice-involved youth in their communities is far more effective than locking them up—and it’s the right thing to do.

This country devotes most of its juvenile justice funding to strategies with negative outcomes. Resources are better invested in evidence-based and evidence-informed programs that serve youth in their communities: keeping them in school and at work and connected with their families. According to a Youth First memo on Youth Justice Reform, community-based programs are known to be effective at positively impacting youth behavior and reducing reoffending. In the long run, they are far less costly, both financially and in damage done to our youth, families, and communities.

In a paper on complex trauma, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network writes that more than two-thirds of youth involved with law enforcement or the juvenile justice system have already suffered trauma—from neglect to sexual abuse to family violence. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study shows that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) can have an enormous impact on a child’s likelihood to suffer or perpetrate future violence. Confinement often traumatizes them further. OJJDP research on victimization in juvenile facilities underscores the damage youth experience when confined, from disruptions in their education to delayed psychosocial development and sexual victimization. Our kids deserve better, and one of OJJDP’s top three priorities is to serve justice-involved young people in their own communities, where many have family and other support systems to assist them.

According to a Brigham Young University study on community-based alternatives, approximately 55 percent of confined youth are rearrested within one year of their release, with almost half of them returning to residential facilities. The United States spends an estimated $5 billion each year to incarcerate children. While incarceration punishes, it does not successfully promote public safety or rehabilitate youth. Replacing incarceration with community-based services has broad support. In the previously mentioned memo by Youth First, more than three-quarters of Americans polled supported prevention and rehabilitation services over incarceration.

OJJDP is working to develop more and better alternatives to youth incarceration to improve community safety and help youth get back on track. Here are a few examples:

  • The fiscal year (FY) 2022 Community-Based Alternatives to Youth Incarceration Initiative. OJJDP will invest up to $4.5 million to support innovative strategies that close and repurpose youth correctional facilities and that reinvest savings into programs and services that promote positive youth outcomes, increase public safety, and strengthen families and neighborhoods.
  • The FY 2022 Reducing Risk for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System program. We are providing funding under two categories: One supports community development, enhancement, or expansion of early intervention programs and treatment services for system-involved girls; the second funds training and technical assistance for the community grantees to help implement their strategies.
  • Mentoring—long a central focus of OJJDP's programming. The office awarded more than $1.2 billion in grants to mentoring organizations in FYs 2008 to 2021, including $89.4 million for programs and services in FY 2021. Youth need to know they matter to the people in their lives. A long-term, genuine relationship with a trusted adult can help a young person develop self-confidence, set goals, and make informed decisions.

For information about new and upcoming FY 2023 funding opportunities, please visit the OJJDP Open Funding site and subscribe to the JUVJUST newsletter.

Young people can move beyond mistakes they made in the past when they are supported by the guidance they need in conjunction with resources and services. And the best places to do that are in the communities they call home and with their families.

Liz Ryan

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