Senate Passes Juvenile Justice Reauthorization

Federal law giving funds to states for juvenile justice reform hasn’t been reauthorized since 2002. Now, it finally goes to a Senate-House conference committee.

Juvenile justice advocates are turning their attention to a House-Senate conference committee after a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act was approved by the Senate this week by a voice vote, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The act hasn’t been reauthorized since 2002 and was badly in need of an update, juvenile justice advocates have long argued. The House version phases out provisions that allow minors to be locked up for status offenses — running away from home, skipping school, etc. The Senate kept language that would allow a minor to be locked up if his or her status offense violated a valid court order.  Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) insisted on the court order provisions.

With nearly 60,000 young people in juvenile facilities, reform advocates are cautiously optimistic about final passage. Naomi Smoot of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice said, “It is our hope that the final legislation will include a phase-out of the valid court order exception, and bring an end to the incarceration of children who are in need of services, not jail time.”  The Senate bill requires states that receive federal grants commit to “core principles,” including segregation of young detainees from adults and the identification and reduction of racial disparities in juvenile detention. It would set aside $159 million in federal funds for fiscal 2017, followed by a 1.5 percent increase per year through 2021.