This week, Congress finally passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. This law reauthorizes crucial funding for juvenile justice programs, and takes important steps towards ending the practice of jailing children for missing school and other non-criminal acts.

Needless jail time can put at-risk youth on a path towards endless involvement in the criminal justice system. This disproportionately hurts children of color and low-income kids, creating yet another barrier to success at such a young age. I have been fighting to close loopholes that treat at-risk kids like criminals so they can have a chance.

Investing in our children is one of the most important things we can do as legislators, and I am happy to see we have taken this crucial step. I am proud that many of the principles I’ve fought for are represented in this law. These reforms are long overdue, and I am grateful to the tireless advocates and to colleagues who helped make this happen.

One of my main goals since I was first elected to office has been to move our society away from punishing children to putting them on a path to success, which has been proven to prevent crime and protect victims. Not only does this law reauthorize existing programs, but also ensures we are working to help kids be better prepared to contribute to society.

The bill helps move towards addressing deep-rooted racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. It prevents kids from being subjected to secure confinement and adult jails. It promotes trauma-informed programming instead of further harming the mental health of vulnerable youth.

This legislation is not the end of this fight, but it is an important step forward. 

Congressman Tony Cardenas represents the San Fernando Valley’s 29th District in the House of Representatives.