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September 07, 2017 Practice Points

Senate Seeks Reauthorization of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act

By Jessalyn Schwartz

In August 2017, the U.S. Senate collectively passed S.860, a bill to update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974 and provide reauthorization for the law, which is ten years overdue. The last reauthorization of this legislation was in 2002, and it serves as the sole federal statute providing national standards for the care and custody of youth in the juvenile justice system and provides guidance on improving the system's operation. Similarly, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1809 in May, and Congress will need to come to an agreement before the changes are implemented.

The bill, sponsored by Chuck Grassley (R-IA), was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of five democrats and three republicans. It focuses on expanding the authority of the government to provide grants to states, updating the legislation to reflect the latest research into best practices, and financially providing for implementation. To receive grants, states must show that they are adhering to the four "core protections" enumerated in the original law. States must work to: 1) deinstitutionalize status offenders, those charged with violations such as truancy, running away, disobeying parents, and underage drinking or smoking; 2) abide by the "sight and sound separation" rules, insuring that no juvenile inmates are housed in adult facilities where they would have extensive contact with an adult inmate; 3) avoid putting juveniles in adult facilities whenever possible; and 4) demonstrate that the state is working to identify and reduce disproportionate minority contact among youth, without resorting to numerical standards or quotas.

Updates to the legislation include improved responses to youth who have been victims of trafficking or who suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders, encouraging states to use alternatives to detention, and identifying evidence-based programs and practices to improve state compliance with the core protections. Additionally, the bill looks to phase out shackling of pregnant minors, improve continued education of incarcerated juveniles, increase officer/guard training, and fund research into promising practices. The bill hopes to promote transparency and oversight of the juvenile justice system and to enforce noncompliance penalties on states.

The bill provides $159 million in funding for these efforts in 2017, with 1.5 percent increases each year from 2018–2021.

Jessalyn Schwartz is an attorney in Boston focusing on child welfare and mental health law.

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