Issue: Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
The core mandates in the federal legislation may have an impact on state court procedures. Additionally, state courts are eligible for some of the juvenile justice grant programs.
State court leaders support judicial involvement in the development of state plans for system improvements, flexibility in administering juvenile justice programs, elimination of the valid court order exception for status offenders, elimination of solitary confinement for juveniles, and strengthening the minority contact core mandates. (CCJ/COSCA Resolution 14-A-10)
The Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is the main law governing federal efforts to support effective juvenile justice and delinquency prevention activities. Importantly, states and their courts that receive JJDPA funding must agree to follow a set of federal guidelines in dealing with delinquent youth. In past years, Congress focused on more punitive efforts to deal with offending youth such as approving harsher penalties and reducing protections. More recently, there is increased focus on outcome-based programs for troubled youth.
In the 111th and 112th Congress, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the JJDPA reauthorization legislation. During this period, the juvenile justice community began discussing elimination of the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception, which allows status offenders to be detained in locked facilities.
In the FY 2014 omnibus appropriations bill (HR 3547), OJJDP funding was decreased from about $266 million in FY 2013 to $255 million in FY 2014. Included in the decrease was the elimination of the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG).
In the final days of the 113th Congress, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill (S. 2999) that would reauthorize the JJDPA.
In January 2015, Senator Grassley, new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, included juvenile justice reform in his announced priorities. On 5/7/15, Senator Grassley introduced the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S. 1169). As introduced, the bill closely mirrors S. 2999 from the prior Congress. On 7/23/15, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1169. There have been two unsuccessful attempts to pass S. 1169 by unanimous consent in the Senate, however, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has a hold on the bill because he opposes eliminating the VCO exception.
On 10/8/15, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing, Reviewing the Juvenile Justice System and How It Serves At-Risk Youth, The hearing was scheduled by Committee Chair John Kline (R-MN) and was the Committee’s first JJDPA reauthorization hearing in at least 6 years.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott worked together to draft a bi-partisan JJDPA reauthorization bill. On 9/9/16, the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act of 2016 (H.R. 5963) was introduced. On 9/14/16, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce unanimously approved H.R. 5963, by voice vote. Like S. 1169, H.R. 5963 phases out the VCO exception for status offenders, but differs from S. 1169 in that it allows states to request hardship exemptions for phasing out the VCO exception on an indefinite basis. On 9/22/16, the full House approved H.R. 5963 by a vote of 382-29.
On 12/1/16, Senator Grassley requested that the House-approved H.R. 5963 be approved by the Senate by unanimous consent. Senator Cotton placed a hold on the bill, but dropped his hold on 12/6/16 when Senator Grassley agreed to drop the VCO provision from the bill. Time ran out, however, for getting the revised H.R. 5963 approved by both the Senate and the House before Congress adjourned.
Senator Grassley (R-IA) has already indicated that he will reintroduce a reauthorization bill in the 115th Congress. The House is also expected to reintroduce a bill. It is not clear whether the previous Senate and house versions of the bills will be reintroduced or leadership for the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Education and Workforce Committee will try to agree on legislation that could be introduced as companion bills. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) remains as the Ranking Member. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) continues as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as the new Ranking Member.