Juvenile Justice Reauthorization: House Bill vs. Senate Bill

As we reported last week, a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act passed the Senate. If the Senate and House can work out differences in the bill through a conference committee, and President Trump signs the bill, JJDPA will get its first update since 2002.

The majority of the two bills are identical, and we’ll get to those common provisions in a column tomorrow. But there are a few major distinctions between the bills.

First is the possible phasing out of the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception, the only true bone of contention in the JJDPA reauthorization process. Click here, here and here to read all about the history of the exception, and opposition to phasing it out from one Senator, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), which has stymied passage of the bill for years.

The Senate leadership on the bill moved it without a phase-out, but they would like to see it make the final bill. The House includes what the Senate version used to – a three-year phasing out of the exception. After that, youth locked up for VCO status offense violations would count against a state in determining compliance with the federal standard on deinstitutionalization of status offenders.

The House permits a theoretically limitless one-year hardship extension, through which a state could plead its case for needing more time to comply with the phase-out. If that makes it into final legislation, something to watch is whether Justice Department leadership are comfortable issuing more than one hardship extension to the same state.

We’re thinking in particular of “county-strong” states like California, New York or Pennsylvania, where county agencies carry out juvenile justice programs with little direct management from the state. Those states are still beholden to national standards, but will they be able to continuously argue hardship if one or two county courts keep locking up status offenders who violate court orders?

A second major difference is in the area of incentive block grants. The Senate took a light touch in amending them; the House wants to blow them up and replace them with a pot of money focused on community-based violence prevention.

The Senate makes some light adjustments to the JJDPA’s block grants. The biggest change is a sharpening of what counts as “mentoring” in the context of OJJDP grant making. The bill would require a mentor pairing to be for the “purpose of providing guidance, support, and encouragement through regularly scheduled meetings for not less than nine months.”

The House would repeal the existing block grants, and replace it with the basic structure of the Youth PROMISE Act, a piece of legislation long championed by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). In a nutshell, it funds a crime-plagued area to plan, and then implement and evaluate, efforts to prevent and address youth violence.

The provision requires a range of three to five PROMISE awards if the Congressional appropriation is under $25 million, and a minimum of five awards if the amount exceeds $25 million.

This concept has never made it into a Senate rendering of JJDPA. There was an amendment to include it a couple years ago, introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), but he withdrew it before it was ever voted on.

A third difference comes in the auditing process. Both chambers included a requirement that the Justice Department’s Inspector General conduct an annual audit of JJPDA-related grantees, including states, tribes and nonprofits receiving funds through the act.

The House instructs the IG to audit every grantee within a three-year window. The Senate takes a different approach, setting up criteria for a sample-based audit with selection criteria that includes the size of grants, past performance, or “concerns identified by the Administrator” of OJJDP.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 914 Articles
John Kelly is senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

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