Justice Department Adds Personnel To Address Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People
The Justice Department’s new Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Regional Outreach Program is adding five assistant U.S. Attorneys and five coordinators across five designated regions, tasked with helping to prevent and respond to cases of missing or murdered Indigenous people. These personnel will provide specialized support to U.S. Attorneys’ offices in the Northwest, Southwest, Great Plains, Great Lakes, and Southeast regions—in the Alaska, Arizona, Eastern Washington, Minnesota, New Mexico, Northern Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Western Michigan districts.
The program responds to President Biden’s Executive Order 14053: Improving Public Safety and Criminal Justice for Native Americans and Addressing the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People, which noted the “unacceptably high levels of violence” suffered by Native Americans. The order directed the Justice Department to dedicate new personnel to address the missing and murdered persons crisis in Native communities. The Department issued its Federal Law Enforcement Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against American Indians and Alaska Natives, Including to Address Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons in July 2022.
OJJDP Funding To Help Keep Kids Out of Louisiana’s Adult Prisons
OJJDP has awarded a $250,000 grant to the Southern University Law Center to safeguard justice-involved children in Louisiana, where hundreds of youth are incarcerated in adult facilities. The Southern University Law Center will use the funding to help the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission fulfill its charge: improving the state’s juvenile justice system, protecting youth, and serving them in their home communities. Southern University is an HBCU—an historically Black institution of higher learning—and has long sought equity for people from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
Ensuring that children are treated as children is one of OJJDP’s three top priorities. Youth who break the law should be served in their home communities whenever possible. Secure custody in juvenile justice facilities must be rare—reserved only for when young people pose a serious risk to community safety—and it must be safe and humane. And we must substantially reduce the number of young people prosecuted in adult criminal courts and held in adult jails or prisons.
OJJDP is a staunch supporter of Louisiana’s efforts to reform the juvenile justice system. In fiscal year 2021, for example, the Office awarded Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice a competitive $1 million grant under the Juvenile Justice System Reform initiative. The funding supported the Commission’s implementation of reforms outlined in Louisiana’s Juvenile Justice Reform Act—Act 1225. Considered a blueprint for reforming Louisiana’s juvenile justice system, the law emphasizes youth rehabilitation over punishment, with community-based services replacing the state’s “over reliance on secure incarceration.” The Louisiana legislature passed it unanimously in 2003.
Happy Anniversary, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
September 2023 marks the 49th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
Signed into law in September 1974, the Act established OJJDP and charged the agency with supporting local and state efforts to prevent delinquency and improve the juvenile justice system. The Act authorizes OJJDP to provide funds to states that follow a series of federal protections for youth in the system. These "core protections" include deinstitutionalization of status offenders, separation of youth from adults in secure facilities, removal of youth from adult jails and lockups, and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. In 2018, the Juvenile Justice Reauthorization Act reauthorized and strengthened the original Act.
The focus of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act is addressing youth victimization and crime by offering help and requiring accountability. These ideals—help and accountability—are prominently reflected in OJJDP’s three priorities: treating children as children; serving children at home, with their families and in their communities; and opening up opportunities for system-involved youth.
“As we draw near to the 50th year of this momentous Act, I encourage OJJDP’s partners and stakeholders to reflect on how far we have come as a field—and how essential our work remains,” says OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan. “I call on each of us to reaffirm our commitment to youth justice.”
Volume of Delinquency Cases Declines Steadily Since 2005
Caseloads for all categories of delinquency offenses have dropped dramatically since 2005, according to a new OJJDP Data Snapshot, Trends and Characteristics of Delinquency Cases Handled in Juvenile Court, 2020. The snapshot also reports that:
- The portion of petitioned cases adjudicated “delinquent” dropped from 62 percent in 2005 to 49 percent in 2020.
- In 2020, two-thirds of youth in adjudicated delinquency cases received probation.
- Person offense cases, which include simple assault, accounted for 35 percent of the delinquency caseload in 2020. Property offenses accounted for 32 percent.
The snapshot noted that the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted data collection and other procedures carried out by juvenile courts, and that pandemic-related school closures likely impacted youth behavior in 2020. OJJDP’s Data Snapshot series disseminates current research about youth in the juvenile justice system.
Information in the snapshot comes from the National Juvenile Court Data Archive, which is maintained by the National Center for Juvenile Justice with funding from OJJDP. The archive is also the source for data in the national center’s annual Juvenile Court Statistics series. The latest in that series, Juvenile Court Statistics 2020, describes delinquency cases and petitioned status offense cases handled between 2005 and 2020 by U.S. courts with juvenile jurisdiction.
Number of Youth Held in Adult Facilities Falls Dramatically Between 2008 and 2021
The number of youth held in U.S. adult jails or prisons declined from a peak of 10,420 in 2008 to a low of 2,250 in 2021, according to a new Just the Stats from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to Juveniles Incarcerated in U.S. Adult Jails and Prisons, 2002–2021, 1,960 youth were in the custody of local adult jails in 2021. State and federal adult prisons held 290 youth.
Of the youth held in adult correctional facilities, the share held in local jails rose from 66 percent in 2002 to 87 percent in 2021; the share held in prisons dropped from 34 percent to 13 percent. In 2002, youth made up 0.9 percent of the adult jail population and 0.2 percent of the adult prison population; those figures dropped to 0.3 percent and 0.02 percent, respectively, in 2021.
Majority of Youth in Juvenile Facilities Meet Criteria for Substance Use Disorder
An estimated 60 percent of young people in youth facilities met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition criteria for substance use disorder in the 12 months before entering custody, and 36 percent met the criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Drug and Alcohol Use Reported by Youth in Juvenile Facilities, 2008–2018 – Statistical Tables describes patterns of drug and alcohol use by youth before they entered custody. Analyses are based on aggregated data collected in 2008–09, 2012, and 2018.
Other highlights from the report include:
- An estimated 84 percent of young people in youth facilities reported using drugs and 76 percent reported using alcohol.
- More youth reported never using drugs or alcohol in their lifetime in 2018 (15 percent) than in 2008–09 (9 percent).
- Female youth were more likely to have met the criteria for substance use disorder (72 percent) or alcohol use disorder (48 percent) than male youth (59 percent and 34 percent, respectively).
- Nearly 9 in 10 (89 percent) American Indian or Alaska Native youth met the criteria for substance use disorder, and more than half (54 percent) met the criteria for alcohol use disorder.
Youth Imprisoned in Adult Facilities Are at Heightened Risk for Early Death
Young people incarcerated in adult facilities are 33 percent more likely to die between the ages of 18 and 39, potentially due to “diminished psychological and physical health,” according to Incarceration of Youths in an Adult Correctional Facility and Risk of Premature Death, a report published in July 2023 in JAMA Network Open.
“Overall, the findings suggest that contact with the legal system as a youth—both arrest and, especially, incarceration in adult correctional facilities—was associated with an increased risk of death between 18 and 39 years of age,” the report states. Neither the length of incarceration nor the number of their arrests was found to impact that risk.
Researchers followed 8,951 individuals born between 1980 and 1984. Of these, 1,597 individuals (18 percent) were arrested before their 18th birthday; 109 (1 percent) were incarcerated as youth in an adult facility. Study findings include:
- Just over 5 percent of youth arrested before age 18 and approximately 8 percent of youth incarcerated in adult correctional facilities would be expected to die by age 39. This contrasts with just over 2 percent of youth with no legal system contact before age 18.
- Being male was associated with a higher risk of early death.
- Youth with better overall health before 18 years of age were more likely to survive until age 39.
“The observed association between youth imprisonment in adult correctional facilities and increased risk of mortality further illustrates a need for reassessment of this practice,” researchers wrote. “Furthermore, the results emphasize the importance of considering the health-related needs of youths while pursuing rehabilitation in prison. Prevention and intervention efforts should be directed at factors to ameliorate the potential extralegal harm—including lethal impacts—of placing youths in adult correctional facilities.”
Child Well-Being Harmed by the COVID-19 Pandemic
Child well-being worsened in many ways since before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to measures tracked by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Data reported in the foundation’s 2023 Kids Count Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being showed improvement in only 4 of 16 indicators of child well-being. Eight worsened.
The foundation’s Kids Count index captures what children and youth need most to thrive, categorizing indicators across four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and faith and community. According to the report:
- The death rate for children and teens increased from 25 deaths per 100,000 in 2019 to 30 deaths per 100,000 in 2021. Deaths due to suicide, homicide, drug overdose, firearms, and traffic accidents continue to rise.
- The pandemic erased decades of progress in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math proficiency. The percentage of eighth graders who are not proficient in math rose from 67 percent in 2019 to 74 percent in 2022, for example.
- The child poverty rate remained unchanged through the pandemic, while the portion of children living in high-poverty areas dropped from 13 percent in the 2012–2016 timeframe to 8 percent in 2017–2021.
- The teen birth rate continued its steady decline since 2007, falling from 17 per 1,000 in 2019 to 14 per 1,000 in 2021.
The report also showed that deep racial inequities persist in the United States. For example, 22 percent of Native American youth, 21 percent of Black youth, and 12 percent of Latino youth lived in high-poverty areas from 2017 to 2021. In contrast, 3 percent of non-Hispanic white youth lived in high-poverty areas during that time. The national average for all races was 8 percent.