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July 01, 2015

Senate Judiciary Committee approves bill to reauthorize juvenile justice act

Displaying bipartisan concern for the urgent need to address juvenile justice issues, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an ABA-supported bill by voice vote July 23 that would reauthorize and strengthen the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) for the first time in more than a decade.

In approving S. 1169, the committee accepted a substitute amendment crafted by bill sponsor and committee chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and cosponsor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

ABA President William C. Hubbard expressed the association’s support for the legislation in a July 20 letter to the committee. 

“Since the last JJDPA reauthorization was approved in 2002, there have been many developments in the field of juvenile justice that significantly impact the field,” Hubbard said, adding that S. 1169 “recognizes and addresses many of these developments in several key ways.” He said the ABA is specifically pleased with provisions that would:

  • strengthen the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) core requirement by calling on states to phase out use of the Valid Court Order Exception that currently causes youth to be jailed or securely confined for “status” offenses, which would not be crimes if committed by adults;
  • extend the adult Jail Removal and Sight and Sound Separation core requirement to apply to all juveniles held pretrial, whether they are to be charged in juvenile or adult court;
  • give states and localities clear direction to plan and implement data-driven approaches to ensure fairness and reduce racial and ethnic disparities, to set measurable objectives for reduction of disparities in the system, and to publicly report such efforts;
  • encourage investment in community-based alternatives to detention; encourage  family engagement in design and delivery of treatment and services; improve screening, diversion, assessment, and treatment for mental health and substance abuse needs; allow for easier transfer of education credits for youth involved in the system; and call for a focus on the particular needs of girls either in the system or at risk of entering the justice system;
  • promote fairness by supporting state efforts to expand youth access to counsel and encouraging programs that inform youth of opportunities to seal or expunge juvenile records once they have gotten their lives back on track;
  • encourage transparency, timeliness, public notice, and communication on the part of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and
  • increase accountability to ensure effective use of resources, to provide greater oversight of grant programs, and to ensure state compliance with federal standards;

The substitute amendment also includes provisions supported by the ABA to place greater priority in federal funding for programs that are scientifically proven to work with at-risk juveniles and to encourage states to phase out the use of unreasonable restraints of juveniles in detention, including the shackling of pregnant girls.

In related action in the House, Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and four cosponsors introduced JJDPA reauthorization legislation last month. Scott emphasized that his bill, H.R. 2728, the Youth Justice Act of 2015, “builds on the strong framework of our colleagues in the Senate and takes suggestions from the nation’s leading juvenile justice advocates on how to make the system even safer and more responsive to our youth.”

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