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Promising Models for Reforming Juvenile Justice Systems

Marian Wright Edelman

Nationally, one in three Black boys and one in six Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of going to prison during their lifetimes. Although boys are more than five times as likely to be incarcerated as girls, the number of girls in the juvenile justice system is significant and growing. This shamefully high incarceration rate of Black youths is endangering our children at younger and younger ages and poses a huge threat to our nation's future. America's cradle to prison pipeline is putting thousands of young people on a trajectory that leads to marginalized lives, imprisonment, and often premature death. The Children's Defense Fund's Cradle to Prison Pipeline® Crusade is committed to dismantling the pipeline, however long it takes. First, we must prevent children from entering the pipeline. Then we must help children already trapped in the pipeline find a way out rather than locking them into a lifelong spiral of arrest and incarceration.

September 7th marks the 35th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), bipartisan legislation based on a broad consensus that youths and families involved with the juvenile and criminal courts should be protected by federal standards for care and custody while ensuring community safety is upheld. The JJDPA has significantly contributed to reductions in juvenile crime and delinquency. Reauthorizing this important legislation this year will help to protect children from the dangers of adult jails, improve safety for children in custody, and increase fairness by requiring states to take steps to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. As Congress gears up for reauthorization, this is a good time to look at several promising approaches across the country that are changing the juvenile justice paradigm from punishment and incarceration as a first resort to prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation that put children onto a path to productive adulthood.

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