July 01, 2016

House Judiciary Committee approves bill to fight youth violence

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill July 13 to reauthorize the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program at $25 million per year for five years and expand the program to include a focus on preventing bullying.

H.R. 68, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), received bipartisan support as it cleared the committee by voice vote. Reauthorization of the JABG program is one piece of the House committee’s criminal justice reform initiative. The program authorizes the attorney general to provide competitive grants to states, tribes, and units of local government to strengthen their juvenile justice systems and foster accountability within the juvenile populations.

Grants may be used for a variety of purposes, including: developing graduated sanctions for juvenile offenders; building and expanding juvenile facilities; hiring additional juvenile court judges, probation officers and court appointed defenders and special advocates; funding pretrial services for juvenile offenders; establishing and maintaining training for law enforcement and other court personnel; establishing drug courts for juvenile offenders; and establishing and maintaining numerous programs designed to address issues such as recidivism, mental health services, pre-release and post release systems, and school safety, including bullying.

Jackson Lee, who is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, pointed out that surveys from the National Center for Education Studies show that 14 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds report being victims of direct or indirect bullying.

“Bullying is not just in a schoolyard anymore; it is a crisis that‘s taking over our nation,” she said. “It is time for us to come to a conclusive solution to America’s bullying crisis.” She explained that H.R. 68 would add a specific provision for grants to states for programs that address bullying, cyberbullying prevention, and gang prevention and intervention.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) also emphasized the importance of the JABG program and noted specifically the provision providing for accountability and oversight to “ensure taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and appropriately.”

The ABA supports legislation to prevent and remediate the existence and dangers of bullying, including cyberbullying and youth-to-youth sexual and physical harassment, by defining these acts and developing educational programs to assist teachers, parents and children in identifying victims and enhancing appropriate intervention.

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