The House has scheduled a vote for Tuesday on H.R. 5963, the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act of 2016, a bill that would reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).  The bill was voted out of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce last Wednesday, September 14.  If the JJDPA is adopted by Congress, it would be the first time the law has been reauthorized since 2002 meaning it expired more than eight years ago.

Juvenile Justice is critical to child welfare since it deals with some of the same populations and young people.  Some youth may have been in both child welfare and juvenile justice having some of the same challenges such as lacking a permanent home.  It also means that how the child welfare community deals with issues such as restrictions on group and congregate care and finding appropriate placements for adolescents can have an impact either negative or positive.

The bipartisan JJDPA legislation was introduced 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) the Friday before the House Committee action. Committee action was swift and positive with the two key supporters sounding its praises.  Congressman 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. I am proud to partner with Ranking Member Scott on this important effort and look forward to continuing our work together to advance these positive solutions.”

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.”

Scott also commented on the recent inaction in the Senate:

The Senate Judiciary Committee has marked up and passed its version of JJDPA, and I know Senators Grassley and Whitehouse are working hard to get their bill out of their chamber. I am optimistic that today’s strong bipartisan support—for a bill that builds on the knowledge and experience of the past 14 years—spurs further action and makes its way to the President’s desk for a signature.”

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

…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.  In particular we applaud provisions in the bill that:

  • Encourage States to eliminate dangerous practices in confinement and to promote adoption of best practices and standards, including eliminating the use of restraints on pregnant girls;
  • Recognize the impact of exposure to violence and trauma on adolescent behavior and development;
  • Promote prevention and a comprehensive continuum of care through youth opportunity incentive grants;
  • Increase family engagement in design and delivery of treatment and services;
  • Allow for easier transfer of education credits for system-involved youth;
  • Focus on the particular needs of special youth population such as trafficked youth and Tribal youth; and
  • Promote fairness by supporting State efforts to expand youth access to counsel and encouraging programs that inform youth of opportunities to seal or expunge juvenile records once they have gotten their lives back on track.

In January of this year more than 80 organizations, including CWLA, started to recirculate 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.

House Committee resources:  To read a fact sheet on the bill, click here.  To read a more detailed bill summary, click here.