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 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 were 2 unsuccessful attempts to pass S. 1169 by unanimous consent in the Senate as Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) put 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. 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 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, but time ran out t for getting the revised H.R. 5963 approved by both Houses before Congress adjourned.
In the 115th Congress, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as the new Ranking Member for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On 3/30/17, Representative Jason Lewis (R-MN) introduced the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017 (HR 1809) to reauthorize the JJDPA. HR 1809 mirrors legislation passed by the House in the last Congress and would require states to phase out use of the VCO exception by 9/30/17, but would allow states to request 1-year extensions to continue use of the VCO exception based on a showing of hardship. On 5/23/17, the House approved HR 1809 by voice vote.
On 4/5/17, Senator Grassley re-introduced his reauthorization legislation (S 860). He removed the VCO provision to address Senator Cotton’s objection and the bill passed the Senate by a voice vote on 8/1/17.
Committee leadership in the House and Senate are working on a compromise to reconcile H.R. 1809 and S. 860 differences. It has been reported that the compromise bill may offer an incentive to states to phase out the VCO exception.