Senate Judiciary Approves $833 Million Over Five Years for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved yet another attempt to update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has not been reauthorized since 2002.

The bill, S.1169, would phase out the lone exception in the law that permits the detention of status offenders; set new terms for failure to comply with the act; limit expenditures on mentoring and require the collection of new data on juvenile offenders.

“This bill…extends the authorization for some key juvenile justice programs, which expired in 2007,” said Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who introduced the bill in April with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “The bill also will go a long way to ensure accountability in the spending of federal grant funds.”

The bill was originally scheduled for markup last week, but was pulled to make some slight adjustments needed to gain more support. Among the bill’s new co-sponsors: Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

It authorizes $832.7 million for JJDPA-related activities over five years. The annual authorized appropriation would rise from $160 million in 2016 to $173.2 in 2020.

That is well below the $868 million included in the 2008 attempt by the committee to reauthorize JJPDA. It is well above $0, the amount recommended for fiscal 2016 in early House appropriations this year.

“We are, I hope, moving toward a bipartisan reauthorization,” said Whitehouse, rapping the wood table for effect. He called the bill “noncontroversial but consequential.”

Among the key changes and updates included in S. 1169:

No Detention of Status Offenders

The bill gives states three years to phase out the “valid court order exception,” a loophole added to the JJDPA in 1980 at the behest of judges. It permits the detention of youth who commit status offenses – those crimes that apply only to minors – if they have been court ordered not to commit the offense in the past.

The National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges now opposes the exception, and many states have already done away with it.

The bill introduced in April included a “hardship” exemption that could have theoretically allowed states to continue using the exception for years. That exemption was removed before today’s markup.

Compliance Monitoring

The central piece of the JJPDA is its four core requirements:

  • Not detaining youth for status offenses, which are transgressions that would not be illegal for adults.
  • Not jailing juveniles in facilities that house adults, with specific and limited exceptions.
  • Maintaining “sight and sound” separation of juveniles in the few exceptional instances where juveniles are housed with adults.
  • Making meaningful efforts to address disproportionate minority contact in state juvenile justice systems.

States receive grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in exchange for adhering to those standards. They are docked 20 percent of that grant for each standard they are out of compliance on.

The bill would split the penalized funds into two pots. Half would be redistributed to states in full compliance; the other half would go toward the training and technical assistance budget for OJJDP.

It also includes several measures aimed at tightening the monitoring and auditing of that process in light of recent problems. Grassley held a hearing this spring to discuss compliance integrity, at which Justice Department leadership admitted to inappropriate policies and vowed to improve.

The Justice Department would also be required to identify any funds since 2010 that might have mistakenly or fraudulently gone to states for standards they were not in compliance with.

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

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which gets more than $20 million annually through the mentoring account, appears to have dodged a bullet in the late changes made to the bill.

The original version in April would have limited mentoring grants to programs where one adult was paired with between one and four youths, emphasizing a small-cohort approach over the notion of clubs as mentoring sites. The language was changed to simply define mentoring as “matching 1 adult with 1 or more youths.”

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.

New Data

Among the new pieces of information that states will be asked to report are one-month snapshots to Justice 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 or at school events.
  • 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.”

House Action

The action now turns to the House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee, which is chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.).

Kline chose not to comment last month when asked by The Chronicle of Social Change if he supported the idea of reauthorizing JJDPA. But a group of D.C.-based juvenile justice advocacy groups have briefed his staff on the bill, and led several of them on a tour of the Youth Services Center, D.C.’s juvenile detention.

“I think momentum is building,” said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bobby Scott, has introduced reauthorization legislation that also incorporates his PROMISE Act [Prison Reduction Through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education], a youth violence prevention program that seeds community-based planning and implementation.

An amendment to attach the PROMISE Act to today’s Senate bill was published on the Judiciary Committee website, and attributed to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Vitter did not attend the markup, did not offer the amendment, and his office did not reply to a request for more information.

John Kelly is the senior editor of The Chronicle of Social Change.

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