December 11, 2014

Sens. Grassley & Whitehouse Introduce Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act

Bipartisan Bill Improves Treatment of Juveniles in the Criminal Justice System

Washington, D.C. – Today U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2014 (JJDPA), which updates and strengthens protections for young people in our criminal justice system and reauthorizes funding for key juvenile justice programs. The JJDPA has not been reauthorized since 2002 despite several attempts in recent Congresses. 

The Senators’ bill maintains protections and programs established in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), and authorizes funding for the law for five years.  It also takes steps to improve the treatment of youth under the JJDPA by bolstering its core protections, improving conditions for detained juveniles, incorporating new science on adolescent development, and increasing accountability and oversight in administering the law. 

“The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention program helps in preventing at-risk youth from entering the system and helps those in the system become valuable members of communities across the country.  This bipartisan bill will be a good starting point for reauthorizing this important program as we begin a new Congress.  It contains significant accountability measures that I’ve been championing to ensure that funds go to those most in need, and just as importantly it reflects the current fiscal situation of the country,” Grassley said.

“Children are our most precious cares, and as lawmakers we should focus on giving them every opportunity to reach their potential,” said Whitehouse, who chaired a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in June on the need for a reauthorization.  “This legislation will strengthen the main protections of the JJDPA, and improve the conditions and practices that can determine whether offenders leave our justice system as productive members of society.  I’m glad we have arrived at this strong bipartisan bill and look forward to working with Senator Grassley during the next Congress.”

The new legislation strengthens several central protections established in the JJDPA, including the exception for so-called “status offenders” – such as children who are truant, runaway, or violate curfew, alcohol, and tobacco laws.  Despite limits imposed by the JJDPA on holding status offenders in juvenile lock-up and clear evidence that holding status offenders can have harmful effects for young people, current law allows authorities to detain status offenders if a judge issues a Valid Court Order (VCO).  The reauthorization phases out the VCO exception over three years and provides additional safeguards for status offenders in the interim. 

The bill also includes:

  • Provisions to ensure the continuity of young people’s education while incarcerated;
  • Clear direction to states and localities on how to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among incarcerated youth;
  • Improved standards for detaining youth to ensure they are not held with or near adults;
  • Better reporting of important juvenile justice metrics to OJJDP; and
  • Provisions to ensure accountability in the use of federal resources devoted to juvenile justice initiatives.

Passed originally in 1974, the JJDPA took a number of steps to improve the treatment of juveniles in our criminal justice system: it established a system of regional advisory groups to advise states on juvenile justice issues; it provided federal funds for delinquency prevention efforts and improvements to state and local juvenile justice programs; and it formed a federal agency, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), to aid in training, research, evaluation, and program development for states and localities dealing with juvenile justice issues. 

The reauthorization bill has the support of broad coalition of juvenile justice and youth development organizations, including Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

“Rhode Island and other states have made much progress in reforming juvenile justice systems in recent years,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.  “More than a decade after the JJDPA was last reauthorized, we know much more about works to provide opportunities for young people and keep our communities safe. We are thrilled that Senator Whitehouse has introduced this JJDPA reauthorization bill.”

Other supporting organizations include:

American Civil Liberties Union

American Bar Association

American Psychological Association

Campaign for Youth Justice

Center for Children’s Law and Policy

Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University

Children’s Defense Fund

Coalition for Juvenile Justice

Conference of Chief Justices

Conference of State Court Administrators

Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators

Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

Center for Children’s Law and Policy

Futures Without Violence

Girls Inc.

Illinois Juvenile Justice Advisory Group

Justice Policy Institute

Learning Disabilities Association of America

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington

Mississippi Juvenile Justice Advisory Group

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Association of School Psychologists

National Center for State Courts

National Collaboration for Youth

National Council for Behavioral Health

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

National Crittenton Foundation

National Disability Rights Network

National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health

National Network for Youth

National PTA

National Juvenile Justice Network

New Mexico Council on Crime and Delinquency

Peace Alliance

Rhode Island State Advisory Group

Rhode Island KIDS COUNT


Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps

Robert F. Kennedy Juvenile Justice Collaborative

Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice


School Social Worker Association of America

Student Peace Alliance

The Equity Project

The Sentencing Project

Utah State Advisory Group

W. Haywood Burns Institute

Youth Advocate Programs

Youth First! Initiative


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921