A briefing, Smart Investments: Keeping Kids and Communities Safe, Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was held on Thursday, September 17 to encourage congressional action on a reauthorization of the JJDPA.
A number of groups including Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Boys town, and the Justice Policy Institute, highlighted both the progress that has been made in several states while also calling for changes in the federal law that will extend reforms to all states. The law, first enacted in 1974 and was last time reauthorized in 2002 and this year seems to be one of the better opportunities for action.
One area of concern for the groups is the need to address the overuse of the valid court orders (VCO). The VCO has been a tool for courts to make exceptions to the current JJDPA provisions by allowing the incarceration of juveniles for status offenses. Status offenses are those crimes that are charged against juveniles relating to their age, violations that would not be illegal if the young person was an adult. Examples of status offenses include running away, skipping school or violating curfew laws. While there are 28 states that report using zero VCO incarcerations in 2012 is there another 11 states that used it between one and 100 times that year while another 16 states that reporting using it more than 100 times.
There has been a growing bipartisan consensus behind some reforms. Some of the consensus is being driven by growing research that better explains brain development for adolescence and young people. In recent months there has also been a turn away from the get tough on crime approaches that were popular in the 1980s and early 1990s.
JJDPA, the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevent Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. S 1169 was approved by voice vote with no objections to what has been a bipartisan effort. Its sponsorship is also bipartisan with Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) jointly introducing the bill earlier this year. The last time the JJDPA was last reauthorized was in 2002 with the current programs operating without an authorization since 2007.
If the Senate acts, its counterpart committee in the House is the Education and Workforce Committee.