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June 30, 2017

Congress makes progress toward juvenile justice reform

Following House passage last month of bipartisan legislation to revise and reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA), attention now turns to the Senate, where Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced a bill cosponsored by a bipartisan group of senators.

H.R. 1809, which passed the House May 23 by a voice vote, is similar to legislation passed by the House and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last Congress. The bill includes provisions to:

• require for the first time that state juvenile justice plans take into account the latest scientific research on adolescent development and behavior and recognize the importance of prevention and early intervention;

• encourage states to work to ensure that youth have access to public defenders with juvenile court experience;

•  promote the use of alternatives to incarceration and support the sealing and expunging of juvenile records;

• address the needs of girls at risk of entering the juvenile justice system; and

• develop prevention and intervention programs designed to reduce juvenile delinquency and gang involvement.

During floor debate, bill sponsor Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) noted that the bill also would strengthen core protections for youth in the justice system by making sensible reforms to keep from kids from being unnecessarily incarcerated and by improving accountability for those receiving grant funds under the act.

Introducing the Senate legislation in April, Grassley and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) echoed the same goals for reauthorizing JJDPA when describing their bill, S. 860.

“Juvenile justice programs help local communities protect youth and prevent them from entering a life of crime, but the programs haven’t been revisited in more than a decade,” Grassley pointed out. “Our bill,” he said, “provides a long-overdue policy update that improves opportunities for our nation’s most vulnerable children and strengthens safeguards for those who do encounter the juvenile justice system.”

The ABA, which has designated reauthorization and strengthening of JJDPA as a priority, supports the House and Senate efforts toward legislation focusing on the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system to reduce reliance on jail and detention, reduce public costs, and protect public safety.


Back to the June 2017 Washington Letter