Although comprehensive criminal justice reform remains stalled and is not likely to be voted on by either chamber this Congress, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA) received unanimous approval Sept. 14 from the House Education and the Workforce Committee and passed the House Sept. 22 by an overwhelmingly 382-29 vote.
The legislation, H.R. 5963, is similar to S. 1169, a bill approved last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and includes provisions supported by the ABA that recognize developments in the field of juvenile justice that have occurred since the JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2002. Sponsors of the legislation, Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) expressed hope that juvenile justice legislation could be enacted this year.
Major provisions in the legislation would:
• place greater emphasis on evidence-based programs when grants are awarded;
• account for the unique needs of youth so that the most vulnerable juvenile populations receive the help they need, such as identifying alternatives to detention, screening for human trafficking victims, and appropriately accommodating pregnant individuals;
• phase out the use of the Valid Court Order Exception that currently causes youth to be jailed or securely confined for “status” offenses, such as truancy or running away from home, that would not be crimes if committed by adults;
• expand tribal access to grant funding;
• support efforts among state leaders to help juvenile offenders acquire skills necessary to become productive members of society through education, reentry, family engagement, and community based services; and
• improve accountability and oversight of juvenile justice programs.
“Today we worked across the aisle to pass delinquency prevention legislation that is ‘smart,’ not ‘tough,’ on juvenile crime,” Scott, the ranking member of the House committee, said after the vote. “While we still have a long way to go, I am proud of the steps we, as a nation, are taking to end the school-to-prison pipeline,” he added.
Noting the efforts of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to move their Senate bill to a floor vote, Scott said he is optimistic that the “strong bipartisan support − for a bill that builds on the knowledge and experience of the past 14 years − spurs further action and makes its way to the president’s desk for a signature.”
The ABA, which has been urging Congress to promptly reauthorize and strengthen JJDPA, selected juvenile justice as a priority issue earlier this year for ABA Day, the association’s annual lobbying event. Those participating in ABA Day emphasized to members of Congress that more than 60,000 young people are held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities in the United States on an average day, and youth of color are significantly over-represented at all stages of the juvenile system.
The association supports legislation focusing on the rehabilitative purposes of the juvenile justice system to reduce reliance on jail and detention, reduce public costs, and protect public safety.