While a Senate bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has been held up in the Senate by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), the House of Representatives approved a bipartisan bill last Thursday on H.R. 5963, the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act of 2016.

The bill was voted out of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce earlier in September.  If the JJDPA is adopted by Congress, it would be the first time the law has been reauthorized since 2002 meaning it expired over eight years ago.

After passage retiring Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said “The bipartisan legislation will benefit communities across the country and give some of our nation’s most vulnerable children a second chance to turn their lives around.  I commend Representative Curbelo and Ranking Member Scott for working together on this legislation, and I also want to thank Senator Grassley for his tireless efforts to advance many of these reforms in the Senate. I am hopeful that we can complete this important effort this year and help more children achieve a lifetime of success.”

The description provided by the Committee indicates the bill will:

  • Set kids up for long-term success by helping them acquire skills necessary to grow into productive members of society and promoting opportunities to turn their lives around;
  • Provide state and local leaders flexibility to meet the needs of delinquent youth in their communities and improve public safety;
  • Help at-risk youth avoid the juvenile justice system by supporting prevention services;
  • Prioritize what works by focusing on evidence-based strategies with proven track records; and
  • Improve accountability and oversight to deliver positive outcomes for kids and protect taxpayers.

The JJDPA was first passed in 1974.  Its mission is to coordinate federal resources aimed at improving state juvenile justice systems with a focus on education and rehabilitation. This reauthorization was sponsored by Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Education and Workforce Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) Congressman Buddy Carter (R-GA) and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL).

Juvenile Justice is critical to child welfare since it deals with some of the same populations and young people.  In some instances, Title IV-E foster care funding may cover some youth who are involved with both systems.  Some youth may have some of the same challenges such as lacking a permanent home.

Curbelo said,

“We all want our kids to have a chance to succeed in life, but too many children don’t realize that success is an option for them or don’t know how to achieve it…These reforms will help vulnerable kids realize they have an opportunity to work toward a brighter future, and it will help them find the support they need to seize that opportunity…”

That sentiment was echoed by Scott who said:

“Today we worked across the aisle to pass delinquency prevention legislation that is smart,’ not ‘tough’ on juvenile crime.  While we still have a long way to go, I am proud of the steps we, as a nation, are taking to end the school-to-prison-pipeline. Today’s committee action—and the collaborative work of this committee—gives me hope that we can get a full JJDPA reauthorization over the finish line this year.” 

The House bill (as well as the Senate bill) has been endorsed by many groups including CWLA.  The endorsement letter said in part:

In January of this year more than 80 organizations, including CWLA, circulate a letter of support for S 1169 the Senate bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).  There was an effort late last year to move the bill through a Senate unanimous consent but it was blocked by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR).

There is hope that with the House actions there are two vehicle bills to move the bill to the President’s desk.  With such strong bipartisan and bicameral support this is the kind of legislation may be able to break a what is now a Senate log-jam by one Senator.

It is possible it could be negotiated and passed in a lame duck December session. Like the House bill, the Senate version would create several reforms including a strengthening of the deinstitutionalization of status offenders. The measure also gives states and localities clearer direction on how to address disproportionality in the juvenile justice system and encourages states to eliminate dangerous confinement practices.

To read a fact sheet on the bill, click here.  To read a more detailed bill summary, click here.