Sen. Cotton Blocking Action on Juvenile Justice Bill

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The first update of the federal law on juvenile crime since 2002 is being blocked over a single senator’s concern over whether youths should be jailed for violating certain court orders, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has long opposed measures that would keep youth offenders from being locked up for violating court orders over such issues as curfew violations and school attendance. The House version of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act phases out all incarcerations for such “status offenses” — including judicial orders — over the next three years. Ordinarily, such a discrepancy would be worked out in a conference between the chambers. Cotton has refused to let the bill go to conference without a guarantee that the status offenses provisions are a dead issue.

“We have to get around Cotton, who won’t move,” said Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice, which supports the House bill. Stephen Bradford, a spokesman for Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN) said Lewis and co-sponsor Bobby Scott (D-VA) “are encouraging the Senate to move quickly to conference so that we can iron out the small differences between the two bills, and get the president a bill with vital reforms to the juvenile justice system.” There are other discrepancies, including a House provision that would give extra grant points to localities that commit to “youth promise councils,” favored by Scott. The bill requires states that receive federal grants to commit to “core principles,” including segregation of young detainees from adults and the identification and reduction of racial disparities in juvenile detention. Some 7,000 juveniles are locked up each year for status offenses. Not even the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, which lobbied to include the original language in the act in 1984, thinks they’re a good idea anymore.

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