Washington, DC – Today, the Senate approved bipartisan
legislation reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
(JJDPA), making important improvements to the way we treat young people in our
criminal justice system. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) authored the
bill with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
“This bill will help kids in the system to turn things
around, return home, and stay out of trouble,” said Whitehouse. “It helps to
stop practices that do more harm than good, like confining young people with
adults or putting them in solitary confinement. It helps kids stay on
track at school. If the real reason they’re in the system is a mental health
condition or a battle with addiction, this bill helps to tackle those problems
– not make them worse. For years, Rhode Islanders have told me what works
and what doesn’t in our juvenile justice system, and I’m proud to put their
contributions to work in this bill. Thank you to Chairman Grassley for
joining me to see this through the Senate.”
“Youngsters who encounter the juvenile justice system should
be treated safely, fairly and in a manner that encourages greater respect for
the law. The federal juvenile justice program helps states achieve these
fundamental goals, but the program hasn’t been updated in more than a decade.
Today’s action by the Senate to pass this bill is a significant step toward
ensuring that the program is functioning as intended. The bill includes
important new accountability requirements that safeguard taxpayer dollars and
prevent states from being rewarded when failing to provide the minimum standard
of protections for minors. I’m grateful for the work of Senator Whitehouse and
all those who came together in this effort,” Grassley said.
The JJDPA passed in 1974 to help ensure the safety of
at-risk youth who enter the criminal justice system, and assist states with
their juvenile justice programs and activities. Congress has not updated
the law since its last reauthorization in 2002.
In 2014, Whitehouse held a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
in Pawtucket, RI, about ways to improve the nation’s juvenile justice
system. The hearing included testimony from Robert L. Listenbee, Jr.,
Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at
the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as from representatives of the Rhode
Island Family Court, and Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, a nonprofit dedicated to
improving health, safety, and opportunities for Rhode Island children.
“The reauthorization of the JJDPA, which hasn’t been renewed
since 2007, will strengthen minimum standards and provide important funding for
state and local juvenile justice systems as well as promote prevention
strategies to prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system,” said
Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “I
am grateful to Senator Whitehouse for his lifelong dedication to making sure
that youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system have the chance
to become productive members of society.”
The Grassley-Whitehouse bill:
Revises and extends authorization for the key juvenile
justice programs originally authorized under the JJDPA. The law puts in
place core requirements, or protections, for youth in contact with the criminal
justice system. These include ensuring that children are not detained in
Provides for increased accountability and oversight of
Justice Department grant making practices based.
Adds a requirement that the Justice Department offer
periodic training 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.
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
Eliminates the use of shackles on pregnant girls in
In addition, the bill addresses whistleblowers’ concerns
that many states fall short of the statutory conditions for federal juvenile
justice grants. After Senator Grassley chaired an April 2015 hearing on
U.S. Department of Justice grant making practices, the Department has
acknowledged shortcomings in its grant-making policy. This oversight
hearing prompted Grassley and Whitehouse to craft the bill’s new accountability
requirements to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately, and
youth are being adequately served.
According to a study by the Council for State Governments,
young people who go through community-based treatment programs – like those
supported by Whitehouse and Grassley’s legislation – are re-arrested at a lower
rate than youth with similar criminal histories and backgrounds who are
detained in state facilities. A study from the National Bureau of
Economic Research found that youth who are confined are more likely to drop out
of high school and be incarcerated as adults than youth offenders who are not imprisoned.
The bill now heads to a congressional conference committee
to hammer out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the