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Signed into law by President Gerald Ford on September 7, 1974, and most recently reauthorized in 2002, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) embodies a partnership between the federal government and the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia to protect children and youth in the justice system, to effectively address high-risk and delinquent behavior, and to improve community safety. Reauthorization of the JJDPA is currently ten years overdue. Congress can and should reauthorize the JJDPA to strengthen accountability; restore federal investment in juvenile justice; help states, tribes, and local government protect public safety; hold delinquent youth accountable; protect our children from harm; and provide prevention and rehabilitation services to reduce future delinquency. Since the last major reauthorization of the JJDPA nearly two decades ago, much more is known about what works and does not work to keep our communities safe and put youth on a better path.
Movement in the 114th Congress (2015-2016)
Last Congress, H.R. 5963, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize this landmark law passed the House of Representatives in September 2016, by a vote of 382-29. A similar bi-partisan bill was also approved by a voice vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee (S. 1169). Both bills included provisions to strengthen the law’s core protections by reducing the placement of youth in adult jails pre-trial, providing more structure to the requirement to decrease racial and ethnic disparities, and phasing out exceptions that allow the detention of youth who have engaged in status offense behaviors. They also promoted the use of alternatives to incarceration, improved conditions and educational services for incarcerated youth, and increased accountability. A bipartisan attempt to approve a final bill at the end of the 114th Congress was not successful.
Introduction in the 115th Congress (2017-2018)
On April 5, 2017, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) reintroduced their bipartisan bill to reauthorize the JJDPA (S. 860). On April 4, 2017, a bipartisan House bill was introduced by Representative Jason Lewis (R-MN) and Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA). H.R. 1809, the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017, is nearly identical to the Senate bill.
Both bills strengthen core protections for youth who come in contact with the juvenile justice system; promote the use of alternatives to incarceration; support the implementation of trauma-informed, evidence-based practices; call for the elimination of dangerous practices in confinement, including the use of restraints on pregnant girls; improve conditions and educational services for incarcerated youth; focus on the particular needs of special youth population such as trafficked youth and Tribal youth; and increase accountability.
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