Juvenile Justice Reauthorization Back in The House

A bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was introduced in the House today, a chamber in which a similar bill passed easily in the last Congress.

The Juvenile Justice Reform Act was introduced by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Jason Lewis (R-Minn.), both members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The chair of that committee, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), is also in support of the bill.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue a better path forward, regardless of their personal circumstances or the mistakes they’ve made in life,” Foxx said, in a statement announcing the bill.

The act reauthorizes the basic structure of JJPDA, and also phases out an exception to federal standards that currently allows judges to confine youths for committing status offenses after being ordered not to by a judge.

The valid court order (VCO) exception was added to the act in 1980 at the behest of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. That organization now supports the phasing out of the exception.

The bill also reorganizes the Title V incentive grant system in a fashion similar to Scott’s PROMISE Act model, with grants funding short-term planning of coordinated violence prevention systems  followed by implementation and evaluation.

A comparable bill was expected in the Senate today, but has yet to be introduced, suggesting there might be some last-minute discussions on language.

This all sets up a familiar scene from last year, where the House passed a bill and awaited action in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee has produced several JJDPA bills in the past decade; none have received a vote on the floor, and it has now failed several times on attempts to pass it with unanimous consent.

In the past two years, that opposition has come from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has told reauthorization supporters in the past he will not support a bill that phases out the VCO exception.

Last year, in the waning days of the last Congress, Senate leadership on the bill finally gave up and moved it without the VCO exception. But because the House version was different, there was no time to reconcile the two before everyone adjourned.

Youth Services Insider has not heard anything to suggest that Cotton has budged from his view on the VCO. So if the Senate version includes a phase-out, we could be in for a Groundhog Day situation.

Beth Levine, communications director for Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), told YSI earlier this month that a decision had not yet been made on inclusion of the phase-out.

“That’s all still being worked out,” Levine said. “We’re also working with the House of Representatives on the bill.”

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1210 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.