07.23.15

Judiciary Committee Clears Grassley, Whitehouse Bill to Reauthorize Juvenile Justice Programs with Improved Accountability

Washington, DC – The Senate Judiciary Committee today passed legislation from Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse that would ensure that at-risk youth are fairly and effectively served by juvenile justice grant programs. Their legislation updates existing law by promoting improved transparency and accountability at the state and federal level.  It also adds additional support for youth with mental illnesses and guards against fraud and mismanagement of grant funds through enhanced oversight.

*Note: Whitehouse is tentatively scheduled to hold a public event tomorrow in Pawtucket to update local stakeholders on the bill’s progress.  The event is subject to the Senate voting schedule in Washington, which is currently unclear.  Details for the event will follow if it is finalized.

“Juvenile justice programs are important tools to help local communities serve and protect at-risk youth, however the law authorizing these programs hasn’t been revisited in more than a dozen years.  Our bill provides a long-overdue policy refresh to improve opportunities for our nation’s must vulnerable children and strengthen safeguards for youth who encounter the juvenile justice system.  Just as importantly, we created an oversight structure that will help ensure that both federal grant making agencies and grantees are held accountable for their actions with young people and for the taxpayer money for which they are responsible. Our goal is to make sure that youth can benefit from the programs’ full potential,” Grassley said.  “I hope the Senate will act quickly to move this bill forward.”

“This long-awaited reauthorization could put a real dent in the school-to-prison pipeline and assure that law enforcement intervention with kids does the least possible unnecessary harm to them and to their futures.” said Whitehouse.  “It’s a commonsense bill that will help kids maintain their education while detained, keep kids out of jail for status offenses that would never land an adult in prison, divert them to substance abuse and mental health services if that's the real problem, better protect them from adult criminals and from solitary confinement, and address racial disparities in the current system.  I thank Chairman Grassley for his leadership on this issue and I hope to see the bill passed by the full Senate soon.”

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was created in 1974 to ensure the safety of at-risk youth who enter the criminal justice system, and assist states with their juvenile justice programs and activities.  The program has not been updated since the last reauthorization passed Congress in 2002. 

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Roy Blunt, Chris Coons, John Cornyn, Richard Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Orrin Hatch, Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy and Marco Rubio. 

Grassley and Whitehouse said they appreciate the endorsement of more than 150 organizations that have voiced support for the bill.

The Grassley-Whitehouse bill:

  • Revises and extends authorization for the key juvenile justice programs that were originally authorized under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.  The law has four core requirements, or protections, for youth in contact with the criminal justice system, with which states must comply in order to be eligible for juvenile justice funding.
  • Limits spending levels for the reauthorized juvenile justice programs to amounts appropriated by Congress for the same or similar programs in the most recent fiscal year, adjusted by 2 percent annually for inflation. 
  • Phases out the “Valid Court Order” exception that permits states to lock up juveniles for status offenses that would never land an adult in prison such as running away, curfew violations or truancy.
  • Provides for enhanced accountability and oversight of Justice Department grant making practices based on input from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General and the Congressional Research Service.
  • Adds a requirement that the Justice Department offer periodic training and technical assistance to states on best practices and protocols to achieve compliance with the law’s core requirements, as well as a requirement that states designate one individual who shall certify the state’s compliance with the core requirements. 
  • Conditions receipt of grant funds on new state planning requirements. 
  • Enables students to continue their education while detained.
  • Strengthens provisions to screen, refer, and provide treatment, to children with mental health challenges and/or substance abuse issues.
  • Eliminates the use of shackles on pregnant girls being detained.  

In addition, the bill addresses concerns brought forward by whistleblowers and verified by the Justice Department.  The whistleblowers provided evidence that many states fall short of core requirements that are a condition of the states receiving taxpayer-funded grants.  The Justice Department office responsible for overseeing the program acknowledged, after Senator Grassley chaired an April 2015 hearing on that office’s grant making practices, that since 1997 it has followed an unlawful policy, which allowed states to receive these juvenile justice grants despite violations of funding requirements.  This oversight hearing prompted Grassley and Whitehouse to craft the new accountability requirements to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately, and youth are being adequately served.

A detailed list of the bill’s key provisions is available here

A copy of the text of the bill as passed by the committee is available here.

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