Just before the spring recess committees in both houses took a go at moving a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act (JJDPA).

The last time the JJDPA was reauthorized was in 2002 with the current programs operating without an authorization since 2007.   In July 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee had taken the first steps in passing a reauthorization of the JJDPA. The bill was approved by voice vote and had the bipartisan support of Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The House had agreed to and passed their own version of a bipartisan bill in the fall.  With both houses showing bipartisan support it was hoped a final passage could overcome hurdles largely erected by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) who had placed the lone public Senate hold on the Senate bill earlier this summer.

Last Congress’s legislation had attempted to strengthens the JJDPA’s protections for young people in the juvenile justice system. The legislation enacted limitations on the incarceration of juveniles guilty of “status offenses.”  These are offenses that are related to age such as skipping school, underage drinking, breaking curfews, etc. Current JJDPA law attempts to reduce these incarcerations but there are exceptions.  The exception is granted when a child is found in violation of a valid court order (VCO) and in 2012 this exception was used to jail children more than 7,000 times nationwide. The Senate bill required states to phase out this practice. This was one of the main objections of Senator Cotton whose state of Arkansas does have a high number of incarceration of juveniles due to these status offenses.

On April 4, of this year the House Education and Workforce Committee approved HB 1809, a bill sponsored by Congressman Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA). It is similar to the bill that was approved by the House at the end of 2016.  The Senate legislation is S. 806 sponsored by last year’s cosponsors, Senator Grassley and Senator Whitehouse. That bill has also passed the Committee in the Senate.

With a new Attorney General Jeff Sessions sounding a tough on crime theme in many areas including criminal justice reforms it is unclear where he will land on this legislation.