Thoughts on New JJPDA Reauthorization Bill

As we reported last week, the Senate has again introduced legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which has not been re-upped since 2002 despite several attempts by the Senate Judiciary Committee to get it done.

You can click here to read our story on its introduction. Below are some thoughts on the bill and its potential.

For Now, Just a Gesture

One thing is clear about last week’s bill: it is a symbol and nothing more. There is not going to be a reauthorization passed this year, and the bill will need to be reintroduced once the new Congress gets started in January.

To the extent that symbols have meaning, the import attached to this bill stems from the Republican signature affixed to it. Sen. Charles Grassley will take over as chair of the Judiciary Committee next year, and his co-sponsoring of this bill with Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) signals that he is on board with reauthorization.

YSI is hearing that Grassley might have different ideas for the final language of the reauthorization than what it now contains. We’ll have to see what that means when the real-deal legislation drops in 2015 (if it does).

Completely beside the point, but isn’t Whitehouse is the first guy with a last name that’s too patriotic to run for president? We couldn’t have a Whitehouse in the White House, it’s just too weird. Other last names on this list would be Freedom, Eagle, and Scott-Key.

Alone at the Alter

As was the case with other previous attempts, there is not yet any indication of interest from the House of Representatives. Which makes Youth Services Insider think that if the Senate ever got to a full vote and passed reauthorization, one of two things would happen:

A) The House would quickly adopt the bill and move it along.

B) We would find out that the House had wildly different ideas about juvenile justice  legislation, and the process would grind to a halt.

The relevant committee on the House side is the Education and Workforce Committee, by the way, which is currently chaired by Rep. John Kline (Minn.). Kline’s predecessor, George Miller (D-Calif.), made noise about reauthorization in 2009 and 2010 but never even introduced a bill.

Does VCO Phase-Out Risk JJDPA Bailouts?

Our article last week hones in on the phase-out of the valid court order (VCO) exception as the centerpiece of this bill. In actuality, this provision’s impact would be felt by a minority of states. Twenty-four states reported zero use of the VCO in 2012, and another ten used it less than 100 times.

It is in the16 states that reported use of the VCO more than 100 times that this is a big deal. Three of those states are significantly fond of the exception: Arkansas (747 uses), Kentucky (1,048) and Washington (2,705).

Might this push a state with a philosophical bent toward the exception to opt out of the JJDPA? Who knows. YSI thought states would start dropping out as the federal formula allocations started to plummet in 2011, but so far all the animals are still on the Ark. Except Wyoming, which never boarded the ship.

Reinvesting Compliance

One less-sexy clause in the reauthorization that caught our eye pertains to what the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) does with funds lost by states that are out of compliance with the act. States lose 20 percent of their formula grants from OJJDP for each of the four core requirements they fail to comply with.

The agency has some discretion over those captured funds now; it would have far less after this bill passed:

If any amount allocated…is withheld from a State due to noncompliance with the core requirements, the funds shall be reallocated for an improvement grant designed to assist the State in achieving compliance with the core requirements. 

Big deal? Yes, said Robin Jenkins, a consultant who was a high-ranking official in North Carolina’s juvenile justice system for several years. North Carolina, once in full compliance with the core requirements, has been out of compliance on two or three of the four requirements in each year since 2008.

“Noncompliance has often been in the eyes of the beholder and…if not standardized or objectively benchmarked, inconsistencies can be unfair and in fact, punitive to states,”Jenkins said in an e-mail to The Chronicle. “If there are oversight/accountability tools in place to ensure that reinvestment is occurring in fair, sufficient ways, it should work.”

The idea is to guarantee that the penalty only constrain the state, not impede the process of a just system for youth. “This allows the opportunity to have those funds to get back in compliance,” another state-level juvenile justice leader told YSI. Capturing noncompliance penalties takes away the financial ability to maintain compliance, he said, especially [for] smaller allocation states.”

There is a flip side to that coin. If states know they’ll see the noncompliance money come back as an improvement grant, does it lower the incentive to stay vigilant on compliance in the first place?

Probing for Policy

This bill asks state juvenile justice agencies to take a month-long snapshot of controversial issues like the use of restraints and isolation, how many pregnant juveniles are in custody and how many juveniles’ offenses occurred on school grounds.

As far as YSI can tell, it’s asking for numbers from all facilities, not just state-operated ones. But it will obviously fall to the state to collect, which will be no easy task, even for just a month. The question of how many juveniles’ offenses originate at school seems odd to ask a state juvenile justice agency, since the majority of those cases would not result in a state custody situation. Wouldn’t the state court be the best outfit for that query?

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Editor John Kelly.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1117 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.