U.S. Juvenile Justice Law Moves Closer to Renewal

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The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) may be on the brink of reauthorization after years of disagreement and inaction in Congress, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The law sets the core safety standards for juveniles that states must follow in order to qualify for federal grants. It also aims to prevent delinquency and curb racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice system. It hasn’t been reauthorized since 2002. The House and Senate each passed their own bills to reauthorize the JJDPA last year. On Sept. 28 the House approved a version that included the Senate’s language.

Reauthorization could lead to increase funding for JJDPA and improve the treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system. The act was first approved in 1974. Previous attempts to reauthorize the law were blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who opposed a provision that would limit judges’ authority to lock up some young offenders for “status offenses” such as truancy or running away. Earlier versions of the bill sought to phase out a loophole that allowed the detention of juveniles for status offenses that were in violation of a Valid Court Order (VCO). Cotton convinced key sponsors Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to keep the VCO exception in exchange for his support. As of 2014, 26 states and the District of Columbia allowed youth detention for status offenses. More than 7,000 young people were incarcerated annually for committing status offenses as of 2016.

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