Obama, Congress Talk Criminal Justice Reform at White House

A day that was anything but bipartisan in nature ended with a quiet White House meeting on criminal justice reform that was attended by leaders from both sides of the aisle.

Tuesday was an acrimonious day even by Washington standards, with a party-line stalemate threatening to shut down the Department of Homeland Security and President Obama vetoing the controversial Keystone Pipeline bill.

But later in the day, Obama had Republicans and Democrats from both chambers in to discuss the potential to move on criminal justice reform bills, or perhaps one broader bill that includes the legislative ideas of several members.

According to a White House official, Obama consulted with the members on ways to build public support for a comprehensive, smart reform package based on many of the ideas they are now championing in legislation.

In attendance at the meeting, according to the official:

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

Reps. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Cedric Richmond (D-La.), and Bobby Scott (D-Va.)

What could this meeting bring in terms of juvenile justice reform? Attendees Booker and Paul are co-sponsors of the REDEEM Act, which would among other things establish automatic record-sealing for juveniles who commit nonviolent offenses and would offer federal incentives to states that set the age of criminal jurisdiction at 18.

Leahy is an original author on the Second Chance Act, which is due for reauthorization and includes millions of dollars for juvenile reentry services. And Scott came close in 2010 to passing a version of his Youth PROMISE Act, which would authorize funding to help violence-plagued communities craft local plans of action and then implement them.

It is likely that reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) came up, since Sen. Whitehouse is the lead Democrat on that effort. But yesterday’s conversation did not include the two Republicans in control of that process.

On the Senate side, that would be Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In reporting briefly on this meeting, Beltway source The Hill reported that Grassley “is backing the juvenile justice bill,” referring to reauthorization.

The Hill reported that Grassley was “not in attendance,” and YSI learned why today: nobody asked him to come.

“For the record, Senator Grassley was not invited to the White House,” for the meeting, said his press secretary, Beth Levine, in an email.

He was the only Judiciary Committee leader from either chamber that was not invited. It is worth noting that Grassley is currently hammering the Justice Department for answers on an apparent lapse in compliance monitoring related to the JJPDA.

The reauthorization bill that Grassley backed with Whitehouse died with the expiration of the last Congress, but Levine said “he will definitely introduce a reauthorization bill that builds on the bill that he and Senator Whitehouse introduced last Congress.”

House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte was in attendance, but JJDPA has historically run through the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The chair of that committee, John Kline (R-Minn.), was not at the meeting.

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.