Senate Panel Reports Juvenile Justice Reauthorization Legislation

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009) – The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday reported bipartisan legislation to reauthorize expiring programs implemented to protect America’s youth. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act was introduced in March by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and senior Committee members Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.).

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act (JJDPA) is the result of more than a year of work among Senate leaders and advocacy groups.  The provisions in the legislation will help state and local governments reduce crime and curb recidivism rates among juveniles by authorizing federal funding of prevention, intervention and treatment programs for youths.  The bill reported Thursday aims to balance federal support for state programs while respecting the individual criminal justice policies of states.

“Our legislation is intended to keep children safe and out of trouble, and also to help ensure they have the opportunity to become productive adult members of society,” said Leahy.  “In working hard on past reauthorizations of this legislation, Senator Kohl and I and others on this Committee have learned the importance of balancing strong law enforcement with effective prevention programs.  This reauthorization pushes forward new ways to help children move out of the criminal justice system, return to school, and become responsible, hard-working members of our communities.”

“Juvenile justice programs have proven time and time again that they prevent crime, strengthen communities, and rehabilitate juvenile offenders,” Kohl said.  “Research has given us a better sense of which programs are most effective.  This bill translates that knowledge into action.”

“I am pleased to join Chairman Leahy and my Judiciary Committee colleagues in voting to advance the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act with bipartisan support today,” Specter said. “The bill is consistent with my longstanding efforts to promote rehabilitation of young offenders and child welfare.  The state and local grants are exceedingly important in this era of state budget crunches.”
“The Juvenile Justice Act provides critical resources to help states address juvenile delinquency,” said Durbin.  “It expands on important community-based programs that help troubled youth get out of the criminal justice system and back on the right track.”
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act authorizes federal grants for mental health and drug treatment programs focusing on youth offenders, as well as funding for competitive grants administered through the Department of Justice.  The legislation also encourages states to address the overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice system and supports state efforts to comply with core requirements of the JJDPA.  Funds available through improvement grants will allow states to address the pretrial detention of juveniles in adult jails and the detention of children who commit status offenses like truancy.

The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

In 2008, Leahy, Kohl, Durbin, and Specter sponsored legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Act.  The Committee reported the legislation in September 2008, but the bill did not advanced through the Senate.

According to the ACLU, “An amendment to the bill [detailed below] was offered by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that would have given prosecutors – rather than a neutral judge – the authority to decide whether to prosecute a youth as an adult for certain federal crimes, including for attempting or conspiring to commit those crimes and for any related crimes. Thankfully, the amendment was defeated. The amendment would have undermined the original intent of the JJDPA, which was passed because lawmakers recognized children have unique and special needs that simply cannot be met by the adult system. Today, this is particularly true of girls, an often overlooked aspect of the juvenile justice system.”

“The current juvenile justice system disproportionally affects girls, who represent 14 percent of delinquent children in custody but 40 percent of status offenders in custody,” said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Girls often run away because of unstable or abusive home environments, making incarceration a particularly cruel and illogical response to their situations. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act will address the root of these issues rather than continuing the punitive cycle so many of America’s youth are currently enduring.”

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Summary Of S. 678
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009

For Background Purposes

This bi-partisan legislation strengthens the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) by encouraging important reforms and by increasing federal support to states for juvenile crime reduction and for improvement of state juvenile justice systems.

This bill increases federal funding of prevention, intervention, and treatment programs designed to reduce the incidence of juvenile crime.

  • Increases funding for critical Title V prevention programs to discourage juvenile contact with the justice system, such as mentoring and aftercare.
  • Increases federal authorizations to assist States in achieving and maintaining compliance with the JJDPA’s goals and particularly its core requirements.
  • Promotes evidence-based and promising practices to ensure that federal dollars have maximum impact.

S. 678 encourages states to make critical improvements to juvenile justice systems.

  • Places significant new emphasis on the crucial issues of mental health and substance abuse, including expanding the allowable uses of grant funds for mental health and substance abuse training and treatment, encouraging states to focus more on these needs, and providing new incentive grants for these purposes.
  • Works toward reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.
  • Requires states to devise strategies to eliminate the incidence of dangerous practices, restraints, and isolation of juveniles through the increased use of training and best practices.
  • Gives states the authority to retain juveniles in juvenile facilities after the age of majority.

This legislation encourages common-sense reforms to keep children out of adult jails under certain circumstances and to eliminate detention of status offenders.

  • Requires states to phase out the practice of placing “status offenders” – juveniles arrested for offenses that would not be criminal if committed by adults (e.g., runaways, truants) –in secure detention.
  • Discourages the placement of juveniles in adult jails pretrial, establishes meaningful factors to determine when they may be placed pretrial in adult jails, and bolsters procedural protections for juveniles charged as adults.
  • Encourages the use of alternatives to secure detention.

The bill reaffirms and strengthens federal-state cooperation on juvenile justice.

  • Supports states’ efforts to comply with JJDPA core requirements by making funds withheld due to non-compliance available to states as improvement grants meant to enable states to become compliant.
  • Strengthens research and technical assistance by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Policy (OJJDP) to encourage states to adopt best practices.
  • Increases transparency by making state plans and OJJDP decision-making publicly available.

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