Juvenile Justice Reauthorization Bill Passes House

The Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act has passed the House of Representatives, setting up the potential for the first reauthorization in more than a decade of the nation’s central federal juvenile justice legislation.

YSI-MB-PageThe Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, originally passed in 1974, has not been updated since 2002. At the center of the law are four core requirements that states must adhere to in order to receive portions of a federal grant:

  • Not detaining status offenders (DSO).
  • Keeping most youth out of adult jails.
  • Sight/sound separating youth from adults in rare instances where they are in jail.
  • Addressing disproportionate minority contact in the state.

Forty-nine states, with Wyoming being the lone holdout, participate in the JJDPA.

For years, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce remained silent on JJDPA as the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up several iterations of a reauthorization. The past few have included a three-year phasing out of the valid court order exception, which some states permit as an allowable way to detain youth for status offenses.

Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) held a general hearing on juvenile justice last October, but remained publicly silent on reauthorizing JJDPA until he attached his name to today’s legislation.

The House bill that passed today includes the valid court order exception phaseout provision, but now it is unclear if the Senate version will advance. Sen. Tom Cotton blocked an attempt to pass it by unanimous consent last year.

In the publication Juvenile Justice Update this month, Marion Mattingly reported that Cotton has been offered several amendments to the phase-out and has rejected them all.

It has been a tumultuous few years for champions of the JJDPA. Congressional appropriations plummeted after fiscal 2010, and last year Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) conducted a public investigation of JJDPA compliance monitoring by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Last month, the Obama administration issued proposed new rules for compliance monitoring that make compliance significantly more difficult. The public comment period on those rules ends next week.

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