Washington, DC – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) requested that the Senate pass bipartisan legislation to protect and improve the lives of young people involved with our juvenile and criminal justice systems. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) objected to the request, blocking passage of the bill. Grassley and Whitehouse released the following statements regarding the action on the Senate floor.
“Ever since Senator Whitehouse and I began working on our juvenile justice reform package two years ago, we’ve worked to include input from our colleagues to get a meaningful bill to the President’s desk. Our goal has always been to improve a federal grant program to ensure youth who encounter the juvenile justice system are treated safely, fairly, and in a way that encourages greater respect for the law, while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Grassley.
“Senator Cotton has suggested that judges should retain the authority to jail youth for violating court orders even when the underlying offense would never land an adult behind bars – offenses like truancy or underage tobacco use. We’ve gone back and forth with Senator Cotton to address his concerns, and today’s effort to pass a House bill is another example of our efforts. Unfortunately, Senator Cotton objected to moving forward with this latest compromise, which would grant states even greater flexibility than what was in our original bill. We will continue working to find a path forward to provide a long overdue policy update to the juvenile justice program and ensure that it is effectively serving our most vulnerable youth as intended,” Grassley said.
“Young people in our juvenile justice system should have the chance to turn their lives around and contribute to society,” said Whitehouse. “This bill would help them do that by ramping up delinquency prevention efforts, addressing offenders’ mental health and substance abuse issues, and providing safer conditions for those in custody. It also calls on states receiving federal funds to end the practice of locking children up for offenses that aren’t considered criminal if committed by an adult, like skipping school.”
“Since we began work on this legislation in 2014, it has won the support of large, bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, and from national law enforcement groups, juvenile justice advocates, and juvenile and family court judges. It has the backing of the Arkansas State Advisory Group, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and the Arkansas Division of Youth Services. We understand Senator Cotton had concerns with aspects of the bill and we worked with him closely throughout the year to address them. We have agreed to take up the version of this bill that passed the House, which was modified to address concerns like those voiced by Senator Cotton. That is why I am deeply disappointed Senator Cotton has chosen to abandon compromise and stand in the way of this important bipartisan legislation to help some of our most vulnerable children,” Whitehouse said.
Grassley and Whitehouse introduced legislation in the Senate in 2015 to reauthorize and improve the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974, which provides grants that encourage states to meet core requirements for the treatment of juveniles in contact with the criminal justice system. Their bill provides additional support and protections for youth, including addressing mental health and substance abuse issues and strengthening delinquency prevention efforts. It would also guard against fraud and mismanagement of federal funds through enhanced oversight of JJDPA grant programs.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in July 2015. The House passed similar legislation this September by a vote of 382-29.
Grassley and Whitehouse’s legislation is supported by more than 150 organizations.