On Tuesday, February 28, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on juvenile justice issues. The hearing began with remarks by the Chairman, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), who in his opening statement, discussed the fact that last year he, along with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) crafted a bill that garnered bipartisan support to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). He decried the fact that it died in the Senate and issued a call to reauthorize the law which he said is needed to implement the reforms that can better address status offenses, sex trafficking and other issues that result in the incarceration of juveniles.
Senator Whitehouse returned the praise he had received from Grassley and echoed his call for a reauthorization of the JJDPA. He pointed out it had not been reauthorized since 2002 that that we know so much more about adolescent brain development since the last time the law was passed.
The witnesses included, Ms. Yasmin Vafa, Rights4Girls, Mr. Jake Horowitz, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Mr. Dave Kuker, Iowa Department of Human Rights, Ms. Jinique Blyden, PACE Center for Girls, Inc., Much of their testimony echoes the remarks of the two senators. Ms Vafa focused on the increasing numbers of girls becoming entrapped in the juvenile justice system and that many of them experience sexual violence and other abuse while incarcerated. She too called for a reauthorization. Mr Horowitz highlighted some of the recent reforms that a few states are enacting including the elimination of the Valid Court Order (VCO). This is a legal authority that allows some state and local judges to incarcerate juveniles for status offenses—offenses that are breaking the law due to a person’s age. This includes infractions such as breaking curfews, underage drinking and truancy, etc. Mr. Kuker discussed Iowa’s reforms including the challenges faced by rural states with limited resources and Ms. Blyden highlighted her experience in an alternate program and how it helped her avoid the juvenile justice system.
Senator Coons (D-DE) asked why the JJDPA reauthorization was important, Ms. Vafa discussed some of the changes and knowledge that has been gained since the reauthorization and she highlighted how members had worked together to craft the bill to address some of the problems in the delinquency system.
At the end of the hearing Senator Grassley indicated they would do follow up questions with the various witnesses. Senator Whitehouse said that he looked forward to working with Senator Grassley to finish the bill and to “get it over the goal line.”