June 9, 2014

Whitehouse Holds U.S. Senate Hearing in Pawtucket on Juvenile Justice

Rhode Islanders and Top Justice Department Official Discuss Keeping Youth Safe and on the Right Track

Pawtucket, RI – Today, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) chaired a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Pawtucket, RI, to hear from Rhode Islanders and the U.S. Justice Department about ways to improve the nation’s juvenile justice system.  Whitehouse, who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, learned about the success Rhode Island has had in shrinking the number of juveniles in state correctional facilities, while also reducing crimes committed by youth. 

Whitehouse is currently working on a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which extends critical protections to youth offenders.  The information Whitehouse gathered at today’s hearing will inform his legislative efforts and be added to the official record of the Senate Judiciary Committee as it considers reauthorizing the law.

“We are here today to consider the important issue of how best to protect our most precious assets—our children—both by keeping them out of trouble and by helping ensure they have the opportunity to achieve their potential and become productive adult members of society.  While juvenile justice is largely a province of the states, the federal government has an important role to play in guaranteeing certain standards for the care and custody of youth,” said Whitehouse during the hearing.

The hearing, entitled “The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act: Preserving Potential, Protecting Communities” and held at Pawtucket’s Tides Family Services, included testimony from representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Rhode Island Family Court, and Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health, safety, and opportunities for Rhode Island children.

“I believe that we have seen some encouraging trends in the decline in youth in custody, the increase in states compliance with core requirements, and promising reform efforts by states. However, there is still much to be done in a number of areas to include children’s exposure to violence; racial and ethnic disparities; and trauma and trauma informed care to name a few,” said Robert L. Listenbee, Jr., Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the United States Department of Justice, during his testimony.  “Reauthorization of the JJDPA will strengthen the core requirements and provide the necessary funding to support these important juvenile justice programs.  I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee on this important issue.”

“I am confident that I speak on behalf of all the families to thank you for funding programs assisting Rhode Island youth,” said Haiganush Bedrosian, Chief Judge of the Rhode Island Family Court, during her testimony.

“The positive trends that are occurring in Rhode Island and other states can be reinforced and supported by updating the JJDPA, which establishes minimum standards and provides critical funding for state and local juvenile justice systems,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, during her testimony. “Thank you Senator Whitehouse for your life-long commitment to juvenile justice reform.  And thank you to all of the members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify today and for all of your work to improve the lives of youth involved in the juvenile justice system.”

The JJDPA requires state juvenile justice systems to ensure certain protections for juvenile offenders, including separating detained youth from adult inmates and seeking to eliminate disparities based on ethnicity and race.  The JJDPA has not been reauthorized since 2002.

Senator Whitehouse’s work on the JJDPA continues his efforts to improve the nation’s criminal justice system as a whole.  Whitehouse has also promoted alternative courts for drug-related offenders and veterans, drafted bipartisan legislation designed to reduce recidivism and shrink prison populations, and supported efforts to roll back mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug crimes. 


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921