What’s Actually In the JJDPA Reauthorization Bill

Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have introduced a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. If it eventually passes, it will be the first attempt to renew the legislation since 2002.

But the bill, Senate Bill 1169, is hardly just a re-up of the old version. The entirety of the 2002 version is 44 pages long on the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention website. This bad boy clocks in at over 73 pages of some subtle, and some substantial, policy shifts.

Following are some of the most interesting proposed changes that Youth Services Insider found in S.B. 1169:

Phasing out the Valid Court Order (VCO) Exception and Jailing Transferred Youth

The bill gives states three years (and the usual amount of leeway to delay) to end two practices:

-The use of jails to house juveniles whose cases are transferred to adult court unless a judge decrees in “a hearing and in writing, that it is in the interest of justice” for the juvenile to be put in jail.

That’s the sort of loophole that is ripe for erratic use. You could easily see some courts taking that seriously, and maybe others agreeing that such a finding will be appropriate with every transferred juvenile.

-Detaining status offenders through the use of a valid court order, currently the lone end-around on the JJPDA’s requirement not to detain status offenders at all. The loophole was included in 1980 at the behest of judges, and now the National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges doesn’t even support it.

The VCO phase-out was first included in reauthorization work back in 2010.

Actual Authorizations

The bill includes fiscal authorizations for the act. The 2002 iteration, and more recent attempts to reauthorize, have simply authorized “such sums as necessary.”

The authorizations:

2016: $159 million
2017: $162.2 million
2018: $165.4 million
2019: $168.7 million
2020: $172.1 million

Is that better than “such sums?” We’re not sure. In 2008, the last time a JJDPA reauthorization attempt had spending levels, they were massively higher than the ones in this bill. The 2008 bill would have authorized $868 million in JJPDA-related funding by 2013.

National Recidivism Measure

Within the reauthorization language on research and evaluation is the following:

“The Administrator, in consultation with experts in the field of juvenile justice research, recidivism, and data collection, shall establish a uniform method of data collection and technology that States may use to evaluate data on juvenile recidivism on an annual basis; establish a common national juvenile recidivism measurement system; and make cumulative juvenile recidivism data that is collected from States available to the public.”

YSI has suggested the need for a national consensus on recidivism measurement several times in our two years of existence. This would not be the first attempt by OJJDP to devise a national standard, but let’s hope this is the time it actually happens.

The language on whom to include in the development is right on. There need to be juvenile justice people at the table, of course, but also data collection experts with absolutely no skin in the game.

Limits on Mentoring

As appropriations for other JJDPA-related ventures plummeted after the Recovery Act in 2010, funding for mentoring stayed strong. To the extent that dollars equal importance, mentoring is now the financial priority of OJJDP.

This bill would dramatically curtail the use of juvenile justice funds for mentoring in two ways:

1) Not more than 20 percent of those aforementioned authorizations could be spent on mentoring.

2) To qualify for those funds, organizations would have to meet the following definition of a “mentoring program”: matching one adult with between one and four youths, for at least four hours per month and for at least nine months.

This will almost certainly shrink the mentoring pie for everyone at OJJDP. In YSI’s view, there is one program above all others that could struggle to get OJJDP funds because of this: Boys and Girls Clubs of America. In the club setting, it seems difficult to verify that match rate.

Nobody in their right mind is critical of what BGCA does in communities. But Grassley has been critical of the organization’s use of federal funds in the past.

Education Stability

The bill requires the state agency that receives federal juvenile justice grants to “collaborate” with the state agency receiving Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funds. The two are tasked with developing a a plan that accomplishes the following:

  • Student records are transferred in a timely manner between juvenile facilities and school districts.
  • Credits of juveniles are transferred.
  • Juveniles receive “full or partial credit” toward high school graduation for coursework done during incarceration.

This is noteworthy because it would add meaningful language on education, an issue that is pretty lightly regarded in previous versions.

Two cents of wisdom from YSI: if the Senators are serious about this, they should get some reciprocal language added in the rewrite of ESEA. Because nothing in this bill requires the education agency to play ball.

This happened on the child welfare side with the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, where there was language that required child welfare agencies to work with education agencies on plans to ensure school stability for foster youths.

But what does an education agency care about federal child welfare legislation? Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has been pushing language in ESEA to make them care.

Notably absent from this section is language about the physical return of juveniles to school. Records and credits are real issues, but many school districts expel students who are incarcerated, severely limiting their academic options upon return.

That might be beyond the reasonable scope of federal law, though.

Compliance Crackdown

Click here to read our coverage of the issues raised about state compliance with the four JJDPA requirements. In a nutshell: Following a months-long inquiry from Grassley, the Justice Department has admitted that its monitoring and auditing procedures are outdated and insufficient.

“As they say, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, and it is encouraging that the Department has finally taken that step,” Grassley said at a recent hearing on compliance.

Those shortcomings, Grassley and others suspect, allowed at least one state and possibly many more to fraudulently appear in compliance with the act. Failure to comply with any one of the four JJDPA core requirements results in OJJDP docking 20 percent of a state’s formula grant.

There are several sections of the new bill that touch on these issues, so we’ll try to sum it up here. First, OJJDP will have to include much, much more information about compliance in its publicly posted annual reports. Meanwhile, the Inspector General is tasked with going back all the way to 1997 to determine how much money might be owed to the Justice Department from states who were not truly in compliance.

Going forward, when a state is out of compliance, “the funds shall be reallocated for an improvement grant designed to assist the State in achieving compliance with the core requirements.”

Left unclear there is what happens if a state keeps promising to use the reallocation to fix things, and does not. To YSI, this seems to be a key point. At some point, if OJJDP doesn’t actually just take the money, it’s hard for YSI to see how this doesn’t completely defang the compliance process.

UPDATE: After YSI reported on this, it was discovered that while the reallocation grants were part of the December version of this bill, it was included this time around in error. Click here to read more.

Potential for More Training and Technical Assistance

The bill clarifies that any JJPDA funds that go unspent during a fiscal year can be split in half for two purposes. Half will be distributed to states in full compliance with the four core requirements of the act. The other half will be made available for the administrator to use for training and technical assistance grants and partnerships.

The bill also raises the cap on total JJDPA spending on training and technical assistance from 2 percent to 5 percent.

New Data

Among the new pieces of information that states will be asked to report to Justice:

One-month snapshot counts on the following:

  • 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

A “compilation of data reflecting information on juveniles entering the juvenile justice system with a prior reported history as victims of child abuse or neglect.” States will also need “a plan to use the data described” to provide services for those youths.

It will be interesting to see how states respond if this passes. We’re guessing that collection of this data would be new territory to most state-level agencies, which requires some new work. Without funding dedicated to its collection, the phrase “unfunded mandate” comes to mind.

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

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