Sen. Tom Cotton Again Blocks Juvenile Justice Bill

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A long-shot attempt to pass key juvenile justice legislation failed yesterday when a lone senator once more objected to the bill, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports. Senate leaders tried to move a bipartisan reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (HR 5963) using a fast-track procedure that requires the support of all senators. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) would not consent because of a provision that would limit judges’ authority to lock up some young offenders. The law sets the core standards for juveniles that states must follow to qualify for federal grants. It also aims to prevent delinquency and curb racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice systems.

One provision bars the detention of juveniles for so-called status offenses, behaviors such as truancy or running away that are only considered crimes because of a youth’s age. The reauthorization would phase out the “valid court order exception” that allows youth to be detained for status offenses if they violate a valid court order issued by a judge. If  “a juvenile flouts the authority of the judge, that judge needs some mechanism to enforce his orders. That is no longer a status offense, that is contempt of court,” Cotton said. The law has not been reauthorized since 2002.  The Act4JJ Coalition, which represents 180 national youth development and juvenile justice organizations, said it was “profoundly disappointed that one senator can stop the passage of this critically important bill.”


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