The primary U.S. juvenile justice law, the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), would undergo its first major overhaul in two decades under a bill to be introduced this week, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) announced the impending introduction of the bipartisan measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), yesterday. The JJDPA had been designed to protect youths in trouble with the law, preventing them from being housed with adult criminals. It was also meant to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice and bar detention of children for “status offenses” like skipping school.
Not coincidentally, the reauthorization bill comes after a Senate Judiciary hearing last week in which whistleblowers testified that the Justice Department had for years continued to give millions of dollars in federal juvenile justice grants to states that put vulnerable children in adult jails and prisons in violation of federal law. Witnesses also pointed to lax enforcement of four “core requirements” of the JJDPA and the nearly 400 pages of cumbersome federal regulations that enforce them. Grassley said, “The Justice Department finally owned up to some of these problems. They admitted to having a policy in place since 1997 that allowed states to obtain federal funds in violation of the law, and they have assured me that they will end this practice. However, other issues remain. So, we're going to start righting those wrongs this week.”