Scott Drops First House JJDPA Bill in Years; Would Include PROMISE Act

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has introduced the Youth Justice Act of 2015, a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the first attempt to do so on the House side in several years.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has marked up and passed several reauthorization bills in the past decade, but the House has been still on the issue. It is the House Committee on Education and Workforce that has traditionally had jurisdiction over JJDPA.

Scott is the senior Democrat on the committee, which is chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.).

The bill uses much of the same language as the Senate reauthorization bill dropped in April by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa.) But it goes beyond that proposed legislation in several meaningful ways.

Inclusion of the PROMISE Act

Scott has long been one of the most passionate people in Congress when it comes to juvenile justice, but his focus has never been on JJDPA. It is the Youth Prison Reduction Through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education (Youth PROMISE) Act, a bill of his own conception that would seed high-crime areas to plan and implement youth development strategies as a means of curbing violence.

The act probably would have passed in the 2000s when the Democrats controlled the House and Scott was chair of the Judiciary Committee. But it would likely have been paired with a Senate anti-crime bill authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that put most of its dollars into probation departments.

Scott adamantly refused to pair the two, believing that in a conference to settle differences, probation interests would win out over his community plan. He played a game of political chicken with Feinstein until the House was about to change hands. A last-minute attempt to merge the bills was thwarted by a Senatorial hold, and that was that.

Scott has included the main tenets of the PROMISE Act as a new “Part G” of this reauthorization. The original legislation would have authorized billions for communities. This appears to be a baby step toward that, an effort to codify the principles of PROMISE into law and start with a handful of grantees at under $30 million.

Higher Authorization

The Senate bill authorizes $159 million in JJPDA funds for fiscal 2016, rising to $172.1 million by 2020. Scott’s bill starts with $262.5 million and jumps to $284.1 million by 2020.

These are simply authorization figures, which appropriators could choose to adhere to or ignore. It is worth noting that, like Grassley and Whitehouse, Scott clamped down on the amount that could go to mentoring. His bill limits mentoring grants to 10 percent of the JJPDA funds; Grassley and Whitehouse set a 20 percent ceiling, but on a lower authorization.

Local Incentive Grants

Scott creates a new “Part F” designed to empower the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to make incentive grants to state and local programs. Scott lists, with great detail, five options for these grants:

  • Increasing the use of evidence-based programs or promising practices
  • Improving the workforce dedicated to serving juvenile offenders
  • Partnerships between juvenile justice agencies and mental health authorities
  • Training for court and law enforcement professionals
  • Collaborative plans to prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system because of mental health disorders or addictions.

Staffing Ratios

Scott seeks to push certain staffing baselines at secure facilities by excluding any state that doesn’t meet them from competing for the aforementioned incentive grants. The ratios that state correctional facilities must meet:

  • One mental health and substance abuse counselor for every 50 juveniles
  • One clinical psychologist for every 100 juveniles
  • One licensed psychiatrist for every 100 juveniles receiving psychiatric care

CLICK HERE to read Scott’s bill; CLICK HERE to read the Senate bill.

John Kelly is an editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

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