The House Passes Bipartisan Reauthorization of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
Yesterday, the House voted overwhelmingly to pass H.R. 5963, Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act of 2016, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The bipartisan bill includes necessary improvements to federal policy firmly grounded in facts, proving that public investments—in a continuum of trauma-informed care and alternatives to incarceration and secure detention—produce positive results for at-risk youth. Those results in turn lead to reduced crime and long-term fiscal savings, and is the first reauthorization of the JJDPA in over a decade.
Daily Press//Dave Ress
The House of Representatives has passed a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News, and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., that aims to help states and local governments sere juvenile offenders and at-risk youth.
The bill restructures Local Delinquency Prevention Grants to encourage communities to plan and put in place a continuum of delinquency prevention programs.
“This bill shows that Congress can move away from the tough on crime slogans and soundbites that have dominated crime policy for too long, and instead focus our efforts on evidence-based policies that will move at-risk children from a cradle-to-prison pipeline onto a cradle-to-college and -career pipeline,” Scott said.
The Marshall Project//Eli Hager
Even though the year began with strong bipartisan support for federal sentencing reform, no major changes to the criminal justice system have made it out of Congress thanks to a combination of legislative gridlock, election, and Republican reluctance to hand President Obama a major victory.
But on Thursday, the House of Representatives quietly — and overwhelmingly — passed what might be the most significant justice reform measure to reach Obama in his tenure.
The bill is an update of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which has been expired since 2007. It would withhold federal funding from states that hold minors in adult jails. Unlike previous versions of the law, the new bill would extend that protection to juveniles who have been charged with adult crimes but are still awaiting trial.
The legislation would also ban states from locking up minors for so-called status offenses — things that are crimes only because of the age of the offender, such as truancy or breaking curfew. The law also would extend to cases in which minors are charged with only a status offense but jailed for violating a court order connected to the case. That previously had been an exception.
“I’m delighted, but also optimistic,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), a lead sponsor of the bill. “Getting a law passed on justice issues — one that doesn’t go backward — has been a challenge, to say the least. But we ought to be able to conform the House and Senate versions and get this to the president” before his time in office runs out.
The Senate version of the bill has made it out of committee and has almost unanimous support. But it still faces an obstacle in Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has singlehandedly blocked the measure from being put to a quick voice vote. Cotton’s home state, Arkansas, locks up minors for running away and other status offenses at a disproportionately high rate, Mother Jones reported this week.
A spokeswoman said Cotton is concerned the proposed law would erode the power of the bench. “It is prudent to allow states to determine if their judges — often in consultation with the parents and attorneys involved — should have the discretion to order secure confinement as a last-resort option,” Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt said.
Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the lead proponents of the bill on the Senate side, have been trying for months to reach a compromise with Cotton. If their effort fails, it would fall to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take up precious floor time — in a season devoted to reaching a spending deal and funding the fight against the Zika virus — with a debate and vote on the legislation.
“Since it so closely resembles the Senate bill, Chairman Grassley is optimistic that it can be passed in the Senate,” said spokeswoman Beth Levine.
Either way, the bill’s passage through at least one chamber comes at a surprising time: right before the election. From the heated Republican primary race through his doomsday speech at the party’s national convention in July, Donald Trump has made the specter of rising crime a prominent issue in his campaign — and the chances of substantive criminal justice reform at the federal level have faltered accordingly.
But despite the status of many bills to reform the adult system, the juvenile bill still enjoys broad bipartisan support.
“It took this long more out of inertia than opposition,” Scott said. “We kept bringing it up — ‘juvenile justice, juvenile justice’ — and I think we just wore them down.”
As reforms go, the changes are not radical.
“This is the floor, the minimum of how we should treat children,” said Marcy Mistrett, the CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, which has been lobbying Congress to pass the bill since 2007.
The JJDPA law has existed in various forms since 1974 and provides federal grants to states on the condition they adhere to several “core principles” for detaining youth: not in adult facilities, not for status offenses, and not in ways that impact different racial groups differently. But over time, loopholes have been added to the legislation, all of which the new, reauthorized bill aims to close.
States that do not want to comply with the new law, should it pass, could choose to forgo a portion of their federal funding, a modest $92 million per year to be shared across the country — assuming Congress agrees to appropriate the money. The bill also does not contain a key goal for reformers of the juvenile system: restricting the use of solitary confinement in youth prisons.
But the bill would require states to collect new data on racial disparities at every stage of the juvenile system and to present the federal government with a concrete plan for how they will address those divides. It would also require states to ensure that academic credits and transcripts are transferred, in a timely fashion, between schools and juvenile-detention facilities, and that children get full credit toward graduation for any schoolwork they completed while incarcerated.
Finally, the legislation would ban the shackling of pregnant girls, provide funding for delinquency prevention and gang-intervention programs, and require states to report data on juvenile recidivism rates and other measures.
Education Week//Andrew Ujifusa
For the second time in 10 days, the House of Representatives has approved an education-reauthorization bill.
On Thursday, the House passed the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act of 2016 by a vote of 382-29. It's a proposed retooling of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which was first passed in 1974.
The bill's lead author is Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla. It got unanimous approval by the House education committtee, which approved the legislation last week amid bipartisan praise. Click here to see more details about the bill. Here are a few highlights:
- It requires more data and reporting about juvenile-justice programs.
- Curbelo's bill promotes "trauma-informed" care for at-risk children and their families.
- The legislation attempts to ensure a smoother transition out of juvenile-justice programs into educational programs.
- The act changes the definition of an adult inmate to ensure it cannot include someone who, at the time of his or her offense, is "younger than the maximum age at which a youth can be held in a juvenile facility under applicable State law."
- It prohibits certain contact between juveniles and adult inmates.
"The Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act will give state and local leaders more flexibility to meet the specific needs of children in their communities," Curbelo said in a statement when the bill passed. "It prioritizes evidence-based strategies with proven track records to reduce juvenile delinquency and includes several measures to better understand the best ways to serve juveniles and implement the law."
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced his own juvenile-justice reauthorization bill last year, but the Senate hasn't made the same progress the House has on reauthorization.
"Today's bill improves the core protections for youth in the system. It requires states to develop plans to address the pathways by which girls are entering the system at higher rates than boys. And, it directs research to study the different paths of entry into the juvenile system, such as school-based arrests, or failure to pay fines and other fees for minor offenses," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. and the top Democrat on the House education committee, in a statement applauding the full House vote.
On Sept. 13, the full House also approved a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which was last reauthorized in 2006. The Senate education committee had initially scheduled a markup for its own Perkins bill earlier this week, but the meeting was postponed.
Chronicle of Social Change//John Kelly
The Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act has passed the House of Representatives, setting up the potential for the first reauthorization in more than a decade of the nation’s central federal juvenile justice legislation.
YSI-MB-PageThe Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, originally passed in 1974, has not been updated since 2002. At the center of the law are four core requirements that states must adhere to in order to receive portions of a federal grant:
- Not detaining status offenders (DSO).
- Keeping most youth out of adult jails.
- Sight/sound separating youth from adults in rare instances where they are in jail.
- Addressing disproportionate minority contact in the state.
- Forty-nine states, with Wyoming being the lone holdout, participate in the JJDPA.
For years, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce remained silent on JJDPA as the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up several iterations of a reauthorization. The past few have included a three-year phasing out of the valid court order exception, which some states permit as an allowable way to detain youth for status offenses.
Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) held a general hearing on juvenile justice last October, but remained publicly silent on reauthorizing JJDPA until he attached his name to today’s legislation.
The House bill that passed today includes the valid court order exception phaseout provision, but now it is unclear if the Senate version will advance. Sen. Tom Cotton blocked an attempt to pass it by unanimous consent last year.
In the publication Juvenile Justice Update this month, Marion Mattingly reported that Cotton has been offered several amendments to the phase-out and has rejected them all.
It has been a tumultuous few years for champions of the JJDPA. Congressional appropriations plummeted after fiscal 2010, and last year Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) conducted a public investigation of JJDPA compliance monitoring by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Last month, the Obama administration issued proposed new rules for compliance monitoring that make compliance significantly more difficult. The public comment period on those rules ends next week.
Juvenile Justice Information Exchange//Sarah Barr
The House voted today to update the key federal law that aims to prevent delinquency and protect juveniles in state and local custody.
The House passed the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (HR 5963) by 382-29, just two weeks after the long-sought bipartisan bill was introduced.
The legislation is a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, a law that sets standards for the treatment of juveniles that states follow to qualify for federal funding.
The bill would update core protections in the law, give states new tools to prevent delinquency and gang involvement, and provide guidance on curbing racial and ethnic disparities in the system.
This “is about more than improving the juvenile justice system. It’s about helping vulnerable kids realize they have an opportunity to succeed in life and giving them the support they need to seize that opportunity,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, a lead sponsor of the bill.
“This act … is a major step in the right direction towards reforming our juvenile justice system,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-California. “I am particularly grateful that the bill includes my community-based gang intervention bill, to help gang-involved youth.”
The swift passage of the House legislation means all eyes will be back on the Senate, where lawmakers have limited days left on the legislative calendar to act on the House bill or find a way forward for a Senate version of the bill (S 1169), which is very similar to the House version.
A spokeswoman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a lead sponsor in the Senate, said he is seeking input from lawmakers on the differences between the two pieces of legislation. Since the bills are so similar, Grassley is optimistic the House bill can pass in the Senate, she said.
The Senate reauthorization has wide bipartisan support but stalled earlier this year when Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, objected to a provision that would end what’s known as the valid court order exception for status offenders.
The JJDPA prohibits the detention of minors for status offenses, behaviors such as truancy or running away that are only considered offenses when committed by minors, unless a judge issues a court order.
The House bill has won the support of juvenile justice reform advocates who have long sought a reauthorization of the bill, which hasn’t been updated since 2002.
“Premised on research-based understandings of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, H.R. 5963 reaffirms a national commitment to the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system; one that supports developmentally appropriate practices that treat as many youth as possible in their communities,” said the ACT4JJ Campaign, a coalition of youth advocates, in a letter voicing the organization’s support for the bill.
The advocates did draw attention to one of the more significant policy differences between the House and the Senate bills: the way each end the valid court exception. Both would phase out the exception over three years, but the House bill allows states to apply for one-year hardship extensions, which would be approved or denied by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
“Though we prefer the Senate’s approach to the phase out, which does not include an annual hardship exception, the House bill is an improvement over current law that sends a clear message to states and will help keep greater numbers of youth from being unnecessarily detained,” the letter said.
The bill also has the support of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national law enforcement organization.
“This bipartisan reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) supports evidence-based programs that can prevent youth from engaging in criminal activity or rehabilitate youth who are starting to offend. These proven programs provide a critical support for law enforcement, as well as an investment in those young people,” the group said in a letter to lawmakers.
The Hill//Dianna Muldrow
Status offenses are generally crimes that are age-specific. For example, an adult would not be arrested for skipping school, running away from home, or disobedience to parents, but these are all potential offenses for juveniles. When the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevent Act (JJDPA) was first enacted it provided that juveniles could not be securely confined for committing status offenses. In 1984 the JJDPA was amended to allow for the secure confinement of juveniles for status offenses if it is determined that the juvenile violated a valid court order (VCO) in committing the offense.
However, opinions on this change have transformed over time. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, who advocated for the change at the time of its adoption, now supports its removal. The NCJFCJ advocates instead for a “service oriented approach that keeps youth in their community.” Research has found that juveniles who are sentenced in their communities have lower rates of recidivism and improved outcomes. Additionally, a bill was recently proposed to reauthorize the JJDPA, a portion of which would phase out the use of incarceration pursuant to a court order violation for status offenses.
It would seem to be common sense that juveniles who have committed minor offenses such as skipping school would not be placed in jail. Implementing secure confinement for these instances uses expensive resources for innocuous behavior, which in turn raise the odds that the person will commit another offense upon their release.
There are other options for these youths. Juveniles may be sentenced to probation, which will allow them to continue attending school and to be in greater contact with their family. Some states have even removed the criminal penalty for some status offenses. For example, Texas now treats truancy as a civil offense instead of a criminal offense. This removes the possibility that a student will be kept out of their classroom further due to incarceration.
The VCO exception has been prohibited in many states, but is used frequently in others. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, there were 7,466 uses of the VCO exception in 2014 for runaway youth, truancy cases, underage drinking, and other status offenses. There are alternative options for law enforcement to place juveniles who have run away temporarily.
The intent behind the exception is to provide punishment for juveniles who repeatedly violate these rules. Unfortunately, this form of punishment exposes a youth who has engaged in only low-level offenses to more hardened criminal youth, separates them from their families, and does little to correct the root cause of the misbehavior.
Programs have been developed that have shown positive effects aimed at decreasing status offenses. These programs can focus on intervening at a school level or providing counseling for the families of runaways. Families and Schools Together (FAST), is a program centered at a participating school and encourages families to spend time together through activities. It has provided measurable improvements in juvenile behavior in the classroom and at home, as well as in parent involvement in school and social involvement from the youth.
There may be a change in this policy in the near future. A new bill has been proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Education and the Workforce ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.), which reauthorizes the JJDPA and phases out the VCO exception. Initially, judges would have to determine that there is “no appropriate less restrictive alternative available to placing the status offender in such a facility, with due consideration to the best interest of the juvenile,” before the judge could use the VCO exception for confinement. That caveat will expire in 2020 when confinement for status offenses will end entirely.
Status offenses should be punished to in an effective way. Incarceration is not the answer. Instead, we should prioritize community-based alternatives and reserve facility space for criminals that pose a risk to public safety.