In light of last week’s hearings, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse have reintroduced a bill from the last Congress that would reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The legislation carries over some of the reforms included in that legislation which was introduced at the end of last year. It also incorporates greater accountability related to the issues raised in last week’s hearing.
The legislation attempts to strengthen the JJDPA’s core protections. One priority for advocates is an exception clause in current law that results in the jailing of children for “status offenses.” The JJDPA prohibits the jailing of children who engage in status offenses such as skipping school and running away from home, but an exception is granted when a child is found in violation of a valid court order. In 2012, this court flexibility resulted in an estimated 7000 jailings nationwide. The reauthorization requires states to phase out this practice over three years.
The bill also requires states to consider ethnicity in addition to race when assessing and addressing disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system; includes provisions for trauma-informed care and specialized programming for girls; and takes into account the new science about how kids are different from adults and ought to be treated as kids.
In last week’s oversight hearing, Improving Accountability and Oversight of Juvenile Justice Grants Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) Senators focused on whistleblower complaints alleging a lack of enforcement by the federal government in requiring states to meet the JJDPA requirements. The whistleblowers complained that states were not meeting some of the core requirements under the JJDPA but were still being awarded their full state grants. The 6
allegations center on states incarcerating runaway youth, youth in foster care and other vulnerable youth in violation of the law.
The whistleblower allegations indicate that states have been underreporting violations and Senator Grassley has been arguing for penalties of such state behavior.
Included in this reauthorization and different from last year’s bill, this legislation requires an annual Inspector General audit of state juvenile justice programs. The I.G. in the Department of Justice brought some of the recent violations to light. In addition to the annual review, the bill would assess a 20 percent fine of states in violation of the Act. The funding would not be redistributed to states but would be used to provide technical assistance to states. The bill would also require a posting of a state’s compliance status on the Justice Department website.
The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2002, and expired in 2007.