JJDPA Reauthorization Up Today, But Unlikely To Pass

A Senate bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) will be up for a unanimous consent vote this afternoon. But Youth Services Insider has learned that it is unlikely to pass because of the continued objection to it by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

Cotton objects to the bill’s phasing out of the valid court order exception (VCO), which permits states to confine juveniles for a status offense if they have been court ordered to refrain from one. In an attempt to allay Cotton’s concerns, legislators have offered language that permits states to delay the phase-out for years.

But Senate leaders on the bill said negotiation has been fruitless.

“We expect him to object, despite many attempts to work with him on the language,” said Beth Levine, communications director for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Forty-nine states participate in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which was originally passed in 1974 and has been overdue for reauthorization since 2002. Under the act, states receive formula grants in exchange for compliance with four core standards related to the treatment of juvenile offenders.

One of those standards is to not confine youths for status offenses, a class of transgressions that are only considered crimes for those under the age of 18. These include running away, truancy, and breaking curfew.

The VCO was added to the act in 1980 at the request of the National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). Basically, if a judge has issued a court order for a delinquent youth that instructs him to attend school, or not run away from his home or a foster care placement, the judge can then confine the youth for repeating the offense without the incident counting against compliance with the JJDPA.

A 2008 attempt to reauthorize JJDPA included a phase-out of the VCO over a three-year period, and several other attempts since then have included the language. In March of 2010, the board of NCJFCJ voted to support getting rid of the exception it once helped create.

Half of the states either ban VCO through state law, or reported no use of it in fiscal 2013. Another ten states plus Washington, D.C., used it a cumulative 410 times to detain a youth.

Then there are 16 states in which the VCO was used it at least 100 times. Arkansas, the state Cotton represents, is one of those states, clocking in with 757 VCO detentions in fiscal 2013.

Paul Kelly, a senior policy analyst for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, told YSI in February that while his organization supports banning VCO, judges in the state lack other options to deal with repeat status offenders.

“We have very few community-based alternatives, and they have been funded at the same level for 12 to 14 years,” said Kelly.

That argument did not fly with a group of conservative policy groups who discussed juvenile justice reform last week on Capitol Hill.

“That’s not a good enough excuse,” said Joe Luppino-Esposito, policy analyst at the Texas-based Right on Crime, discussing the absence of other options. “If the reason is no resources, the state needs to get the resources.”

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