JJDPA Reauthorization Bill Coming This Week

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), speaking at a National Press Club event, said that he and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) plan to introduce a bill this week to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

Cue up this video at the 12-minute mark to hear Grassley speak about the planned introduction.

Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, put a reauthorization bill in the hopper at the end of the last Congress. At the Press Club, he called that “the starting point for negotiations.”

You can certainly expect to see some changes in the new version that address the integrity of compliance monitoring at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a division of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP)

OJJDP is responsible for ensuring that states comply the four core requirements of the JJDPA, and docking state juvenile justice grants when those requirements are not met.

Last week, Grassley convened a hearing at which employees of the OJJDP accused their own agency of turning a blind eye to noncompliance. During his Press Club event, he described “widespread mismanagement” and “instances of fraud.”

“There are a few states that meet all the criteria…but the Office of Justice Programs turns its head the other way aren’t in compliance,” Grassley said. “States know about this blanket amnesty, so they don’t try and follow the law.”

Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, who also testified at the hearing, admitted that the compliance process at OJJDP was broken.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was passed in 1974, and has not been reauthorized since 2002.

The bill introduced by Grassley and Whitehouse in December contained a phase-out of the “valid court order exception” to the detention of status offenders, one of the four core requirements of the act.

The VCO exception was added to the JJDPA in 1980, and permits courts to jail children for status offenses, which include truancy and running away. While judges are not permitted under JJPDA to detain a youth directly for a status offense, a judge can issue a court order to any offender instructing them not to commit a status offense.

If the juvenile then commits one of the listed offenses, it would be permissible under the federal law to detain them. In 2012 alone, the exception was used more than 7,000 times, according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

The December bill would phase out the exception over a three-year period, giving states a cushion to adjust to the policy.

The bill would also require states to report data on several controversial issues regarding youth in detention or confinement. Among the reporting requirements:

  • Use of restraints and isolation in juvenile facilities
  • The number of status offenses who are detained, the underlying reason for the detention, and the average length of stay
  • The number of pregnant juveniles held in custody
  • The number of juveniles whose offenses occurred on school grounds

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor John Kelly.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1094 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.