The Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention and Treatment Act (JJDPA), a program that seeks to prevent juvenile incarceration through prevention efforts and better and more appropriate sentencing fell short late in the week.

The last time the JJDPA was reauthorized was in 2002 with the current programs operating without an authorization since 2007.   In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee had taken the first steps in passing a reauthorization of the JJDPA, S 1169. 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 late 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.

Supporters of the legislation felt it strengthens the JJDPA’s protections for young people in the juvenile justice system. The proposed bill would have 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 the main objection of Senator Cotton whose state of Arkansas does have a high number of incarceration of juveniles due to these status offenses.

Other key reforms included requiring states to consider ethnicity in addition to race when assessing and addressing disproportionate minority contact; provisions for trauma-informed care and specialized programming for girls; considering new science about how kids are different from adults and ought to be treated as kids; and added protections for kids charged as adults.

A breakthrough came late on Wednesday when Senator Cotton released his hold but only after the VCO provision was modified.  By that time, Senate Joe Manchin (D-WV) was blocking all legislation over an unrelated issue on the CR.  In the meantime, the House finished their work on the CR and then left town meaning any correction to the JJDPA could not get through the now-recessed House of Representatives.