Advocates for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) took to the halls of House and Senate office buildings to hand-deliver Valentine’s Day gifts with a political message.
Each office received a candy bar with a message urging action to update the law, which was originally passed in 1974 and has not been reauthorized since 2002.
The wrapper for each candy bar said JJDPA MATTERS in big block letters, with the subscript: “Share the Love, Pass the JJDPA.”
Included on the delivery schedule was the one man advocates most need to win the heart of: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has held up reauthorization for years now over the planned phasing out of a loophole on locking up status offenders, youth who commit transgressions that would not be considered a crime if they were adults (running away and truancy chief among them).
JJDPA is more than a decade overdue for reauthorization. For the first time in that delay, both chambers have passed legislation that gets it done.
The bills vary in one significant way that has prevented the move toward a conference committee to produce a single piece of legislation, which presumably, President Donald Trump would sign.
JJDPA provides states with formula grants in exchange for adherence to four core standards, one of which is that they do not punish status offenders by placing them in detention or commitment facilities. The valid court order (VCO) exception permits judges to skirt that standard in cases where a court has ordered the youth not to commit a status offense.
The House reauthorization bill includes a three-year phasing out of the VCO. The Senate’s does not, because Cotton would not agree to unanimous consent if it did. He knows that if the two bills proceed to conference, the House version might prevail on this subject, so he’s holding up the process.
“The importance of the continued federal investment in children and families cannot be overstated,” said Marcy Mistrett, CEO at the Campaign for Youth Justice and Co-chair of the Act4JJ Coalition, the group that distributed the gifts.
Last week, Rep. Jason Lewis said he believed a compromise would be worked out soon to pass the bill.
“I don’t think it will be a hard limit” against the VCO exception, Lewis told the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. “Cotton probably won’t sign off on a hard limit, but we’ll have more options.”
While the bill could provide additional requirements and changes to JJDPA, the Justice Department recently moved to toughen the standards for compliance with the act.