On Tuesday, April 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing Improving Accountability and Oversight of Juvenile Justice Grants Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) with a focus on some recent whistleblower complaints alleging a lack of enforcement by the federal government in requiring states to meet the JJDPA requirements. Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA)  sent a letter to the Office of Justice Programs last fall that raised concerns first raised by department whistleblowers.  The whistleblowers complained that states were not meeting some of the core requirements under the JJDPA but were still being awarded their full state grants.  The allegations center on states incarcerating runaway youth, youth in foster care and other vulnerable youth in violation of the law.

Specifically states are to meet four core requirements as a condition of funding which include the deinstitutionalizing of status offenders (youth arrested for offenses related to their age such as skipping school, breaking curfews, etc), addressing disproportionality or the over representation of certain minorities in the juvenile justice system, removal of juveniles from adult jails and the separation of juveniles from adult inmates when the juvenile isn’t in a separate facility. The whistleblower allegations indicate that states have been underreporting violations and Senator Grassley has been arguing for penalties of such state behavior.  The state violations highlighted in the February Grassley letter to DOJ include Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, Rhode Island Puerto Rico, and Idaho.

During Committee testimony, the Office of Justice, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason said that the three problems with compliance are:  the regulations governing the program are old, outdated, and inconsistent with the JJDP Act, as amended;  the standards used to make compliance determinations are vague, thus injecting substantial subjectivity into the monitoring process, and the extended timeline between a state’s filing of a compliance report and OJJDP’s compliance determination is inconsistent with the statute.

She said in her testimony that it has taken too long to develop new regulations and that they look to the Committee for guidance whether they should expedite new regulations or wait for Congress to pass new legislation. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ranking Member, called on the Department of Justice to issue final updated regulations.  The OJJDPA has not had its regulations updated since 1996.  Proposed regulations were published more than two years ago with a commitment that they would be coming out soon but that has not happened yet.

Mark Soler, Executive Director for the Center for Children’s Law and Policy testified that, during the second half of the 1990s, the office and the law was a leader in the field but OJJDP did not keep pace and it has not helped that appropriations has been cut by 80 percent over the past decade

The issue of the need for new regulations is not lost on the child abuse and the child abuse prevention community.  The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) has not had updated regulations since 1990.  Instead of making an effort to update those regulations HHS has announced that they will do away with CAPTA regulations in their entirety effective June 29, 2015.   They are not seeking comments.