ABA President Hilarie Bass urged Congress to quickly enact juvenile justice legislation now that both the House and Senate have approved bipartisan bills to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA).
“The ABA strongly supports the JJDPA, which has provided states and localities with federal standards and support for improving juvenile justice and delinquency prevention practices and contributed to safeguards for youth, families and communities for more than 40 years,” Bass wrote to the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 5.
The Senate passed its version of juvenile justice legislation, S. 860, on Aug. 1, and the House bill, H.R. 1809, received House approval May 23. Both bills were passed by voice vote. Bass wrote that when the House and Senate conferees meet to resolve differences between the two bills, the ABA urges them to work efficiently “to finally reauthorize the JJDPA and reaffirm a national commitment to the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system.”
It has been 13 years since the JJDPA was reauthorized, and new research has changed the methods for dealing with juveniles in the criminal justice system. Bass emphasized that the reauthorization of the act is critical to protecting juveniles and ensuring that federal funding focuses on programs that have been shown to “improve outcomes for these young people.”
The ABA, she said, specifically supports provisions in both bills that would extend protections that limit youth contact with adult offenders and phase out 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.
Such treatment of status offenders results in juveniles being exposed to potentially dangerous influences while in a confined setting when access to other youth services outside a detention facility would be more appropriate, she warned.