A bipartisan bill that aims to strengthen protections for youth who enter the criminal justice system was approved yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports. The bill is a reauthorization of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which sets federal standards for juvenile justice programs in state and local jurisdictions. States must abide by the law to obtain federal aid for juvenile justice; the total appropriated has declined in recent years. The new legislation would update the law, adding new policies its supporters say reflect a growing body of knowledge about best practices in juvenile justice. It was last reauthorized in 2002 and lapsed in 2007. The measure was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The bill would phase out an exception that allows children who commit status offenses to be detained. Status offenses include truancy, running away from home and curfew violations–actions that would not land an adult in jail. It would continue the rule that juveniles be separated from adults in the criminal justice system during the pretrial period. States would be required to set measurable ways to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system and publicly report the results. Marie Williams of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice is optimistic that the legislation's movement in the Senate will encourage action in the House.