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2014 a Milestone Year for Youth Justice Reforms

March 5, 2014

Below, Betsy Clarke, President of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative (an NJJN member), discusses the momentous 40th anniversary of the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Read Ms. Clarke's article below (article has been slightly adapted from its original version): 


This will be a momentous year. Throughout 2014, we will mark the anniversary of a number of critical developments along the march towards fair treatment of all our children:

  • Fortieth Anniversary: The U.S. Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act (JJDPA). The original law included two core protections – that status offenders (runaways, curfew violators, etc.) should not be detained, and that children should be sight and sound separated from adults in adult jails and lockups. A jail removal protection was added in 1980 to remind states that children should not be in adult jails and lockups except under very limited circumstances. Finally, the Act was expanded in 1992 to include a requirement that states address the overrepresentation of children of color in the justice system. With the JJDPA, came the creation of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and a small pot of federal dollars for states to use to develop innovative prevention and intervention programs and strategies. 
  • Twenty-fifth Anniversary: The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC banned extreme punishments of the death penalty and life without parole, required counsel and due process in juvenile proceedings, set 18 as the minimum age for adult court jurisdiction, required nations to adopt a reasonable minimum age of jurisdiction, and clarified that incarceration was to be a last resort for as short a time as possible within humane facilities. The Convention was a consensus document with the participation of the United States, under the direction of then President Reagan. It was the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history – only three nations have failed to ratify. Although the U.S. signed the CRC under President Clinton, it has yet to ratify - along with Somalia and South Sudan.

In this year, we must aim to incorporate all of the internationally recognized human rights of children in our state and national laws governing justice systems for children in conflict with the law. Along with most other developed nations in the world, we must ensure our children have the protection of an attorney when first questioned by authorities; we must ensure that adult trial of a child is an “exceptional” decision made on an individualized basis with due process protections; and we must ensure that incarceration is used as a last resort for as short a time as possible in humane facilities. We can – and must – accomplish these minimal protections for our children. The outcomes for our children will be better, and our communities will be safer, with these minimal protections solidly in place.

Elizabeth Clarke, President, Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative

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