12.17.09

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.

The full text of Leahy’s statement follows.

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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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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On S. 678, The “Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act”
Executive Business Meeting
December 17, 2009

We turn today to the bipartisan “Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act,” which is designed to protect our communities and particularly our most precious asset, our children.  I appreciate the hard work of Senator Kohl, who has been a leader in this area of the law for decades, and the support of Senators Specter, Durbin, Cardin and Franken, along with Senators Collins and Snowe.  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.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported this important bipartisan legislation last year.  We should ensure that it passes into law in this Congress.  The Washington Post and The New York Times have come out strongly in favor of this bill, and with only a handful of amendments filed, I hope we can work through it and report this bill today.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act sets out Federal policy and standards for the administration of juvenile justice.  It authorizes key Federal resources for states to improve their juvenile justice systems and for communities to develop programs to prevent young people from getting into trouble.  We are recommitting ourselves to these important goals with this proposed reauthorization.  We also push the law forward in key ways to better serve our communities and our children.

The basic goals of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act remain the same:  keeping our communities safe by reducing juvenile crime, advancing programs and policies that keep children out of the criminal justice system, and encouraging states to implement policies designed to steer those children who do enter the juvenile justice system back onto a track to become contributing members of society.

This reauthorization strengthens these goals in key ways.  It encourages states to move away from keeping young people in adult jails.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that children who are held in adult prisons commit more crimes, and more serious crimes, when they are released, than children with similar histories who are kept in juvenile facilities.  After years of pressure to send more and more young people to adult prisons, it is time to reconsider.

We must do this with ample consideration for the fiscal constraints on states, particularly in these lean budget times, and with deference to the traditional role of states in setting their own criminal justice policy.  We have done so here.  But we also must work to ensure that unless strong and considered reasons dictate otherwise, children should be kept with other children, particularly before they have been convicted of any wrongdoing.

As a former prosecutor, I know well the importance of holding criminals accountable for their crimes with strong sentences.  But when we are talking about children, we must also think about how best to help them become responsible, contributing members of society as adults.  That keeps us all safer.

I am disturbed that children from minority communities continue to be overrepresented in the juvenile justice system.  This bill encourages states to take new steps to identify the reasons for this serious and continuing problem and to work together with the Federal Government and with local communities to find ways to start solving it.

I am also concerned that too many runaway and homeless young people are locked up for status offenses, like truancy, without having committed any crime.  This reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Act requires states to phase out the practice entirely in three years, but with a safety valve for those states that lack the resources to move quite so quickly.

As I have worked with experts on this legislation, it has become abundantly clear that mental health and drug treatment are fundamental to making real progress toward keeping juvenile offenders from reoffending.  Mental disorders are two to three times more common among children in the juvenile justice system than in the general population, and 80 percent of young people in the juvenile justice system have been found by some studies to have a connection to substance abuse.  This bill takes new and important steps to prioritize and fund mental health and drug treatment.

The bill emphas effective training of personnel who work in the juvenile justice system, both to encourage the use of approaches that have been proven effective and to eliminate cruel and unnecessary treatment of juveniles.  It also creates incentives for the use of programs that research and testing have shown work best.

Finally, the bill refocuses attention on prevention programs intended to keep children from ever entering the criminal justice system.  In this Committee’s hearings, seasoned police chiefs from Tucson, Arizona to Rutland, Vermont have told us that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem and that prevention programs are pivotal.  I have listened to these law enforcement professionals, and this bill reflects their wisdom.

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.  I hope all Senators on Committee will join us in supporting this important legislation.

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