Senate Committee Moves on Homeless Youth, Offender Reentry and PREA Before Recess

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation on homeless youth, offender reentry and prisoner safety today, setting both bills up for consideration on the floor when Congress returns from recess after the November elections.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act would reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which was passed originally in 1974 and funds street outreach, basic shelter and transitional living programs for homeless teens and runaways. Its annual appropriation has hovered around $100 million in recent years.

The bill, S.2646, extends the maximum stay at basic shelters from 21 days to 30 days. It also requires transitional living program grantees to provide counseling services and aftercare services to participants.

The legislation would also establish a compensation fund for victims of human trafficking. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), speaking at the committee markup of the bill today, said the fund would be paid for with assets recovered in trafficking stings and by increasing financial penalties on federal sex offenders, who Cornyn described as “among the most affluent in the federal system.”

A second piece of legislation passed by the committee today, S.1690, would reauthorize the Second Chance Act at $100 million. Second Chance funds state and local efforts to improve and expand reentry programs for adult and juvenile offenders.

Cornyn successfully attached an amendment to the reauthorization that actually relates to the penalties involved in another federal law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

PREA requires states to certify that the correctional facilities under its control are in compliance with federal standards aimed at protecting inmates from sexual violence. States that do not comply face a 5 percent penalty applied to federal funding for prisons.

Thus far, only two states – New Jersey and New Hampshire – have certified compliance. Forty-one states have made an assurance to the Department of Justice that they will become compliant within the year, and are being allowed to spend the 5 percent penalty on efforts to do so.

The governors of seven states – Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and Utah – have informed the Justice Department that they will not become compliant with PREA.

Cornyn’s amendment protects several justice-related grant programs from being included in the funds that are subject to a 5 percent penalty if a state fails to comply with PREA. Among those programs excluded from the penalty are:

  • Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
  • Violence Against Women Act
  • Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants

Those funding streams are only subject to the penalty now because of a “misinterpretation” by Justice, Cornyn said.

“I want to protect PREA by making sure it’s not used to harm domestic violence programs and law enforcement officials,” he said. “I was a co-sponsor of PREA, but I also care about law enforcement having the resources they need.”

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

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