A bipartisan juvenile justice bill introduced yesterday in the Senate would significantly strengthen requirements meant to protect youths while putting teeth into regulations to prevent widespread waste, abuse, fraud and retaliation against whistleblowers in the U.S. Justice Department, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports. The bill from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) would add stricter rules for reducing racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice and phase out the detention of “status offenders,” whose offenses are considered crimes only because they are minors.
The provisions come as part of the proposed reauthorization of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which lapsed in 2007 and has not undergone a major overhaul in two decades. “Our bill provides a long-overdue policy refresh to improve opportunities for our nation's most vulnerable children and strengthen safeguards for youth who encounter the juvenile justice system,” Grassley and Whitehouse said. “Our bill also creates measures to tackle fraud and waste so that our youth can benefit from the programs' full potential.” The bill also incorporates recent research into adolescent behavior and brain research, which has shown the brain can continue developing until the mid-20s and that adolescents are prone to peer pressure, can be reckless and disregard long-term consequences of their behavior. At the same time, research has found almost all children at some point engage in delinquent behavior but most outgrow it and that youths are amenable to rehabilitation.