Four speakers and a half-dozen members of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday criticized the practice of incarcerating juveniles for status offenses, actions that aren’t even a crime, such as smoking or skipping school against a valid court order, unless you’re a juvenile. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who wasn’t present, single-handedly blocked a juvenile justice reform bill last year solely on that issue, saying judges should retain that option, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Lawmakers and experts spent 90 minutes pounding home a simple message: Passing juvenile justice reform is too important to let it slip away again, especially when all the data shows locking up kids for minor offenses is a terrible idea that increases crime.
“Those who broke laws that apply only to children, such as curfew violators and truants, face particularly great obstacles inside a detention facility,” said chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). “These young people not only will be separated from their families, but also may be confined with much older juvenile delinquents who committed rapes, robberies or murders.” Panelists discussed not only the crime bill but also looked at why some areas in the nation still insist on practices that research shows are more expensive and less successful than treatment and family-oriented care. “Clearly there is a lot of evidence of the harmful effects of incarcerating juveniles, yet we spend more money on that aspect than we do on alternative programs. Why does so much of our country always go for the incarceration model?” asked Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).