WASHINGTON — House lawmakers heard strong calls to reauthorize the primary federal juvenile justice law during a hearing Thursday.
The Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act sets core protections for juveniles in the states and provides state grants. The law was last reauthorized in 2002.
Since then, the field has developed new evidence-based practices that need to be incorporated into the law, reform advocates told the House Education and Workforce Committee.
The committee “has an opportunity to improve upon an historical and strategic Act of Congress that has assisted states like mine to keep our communities safe and put youth on a better path,” said Steven C. Teske, chief judge of the Clayton County Juvenile Court in Georgia.
Teske pointed to programs in Georgia that have reduced arrests, detention rates and lengths of stay for juveniles, which he said were seeded by JJDPA funding.
The Senate Judiciary Committee this summer approved a JJDPA reauthorization bill, but House lawmakers have yet to consider a similar measure. The full Senate could vote on the legislation as early as this fall.
Teske and Derek Cohen, deputy director at the the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, both stressed the need to end detention for youth who commit status offenses, such as running away or missing curfew, by closing the valid court order exemption in any reauthorization.
Teske also recommended strengthening the provisions of the law that aim to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the system. In addition, he called for enhanced judicial training for judges so they can best apply federal requirements.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., ranking member of the committee, said JJDPA needs to be reauthorized to implement new policies, but also to ensure juvenile justice programs receive funding.
A House appropriations bill would zero out funding for several provisions under the law.
“We’re still likely to have the same problem year after year until we have a reauthorization of this program,” he said.
Scott, a long-time supporter of juvenile justice reform, said he hopes to work on a bipartisan bill that could reach the president’s desk before the end of this session of Congress.
Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., didn’t offer a timeline for action during the hearing.
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