Feb 22

House committee holds hearing on juvenile justice reform

On February 15, the House of Representatives held a subcommittee hearing on “Providing Vulnerable Youth the Hope of a Brighter Future Through Juvenile Justice Reform.” Chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), the hearing included testimony from four witnesses, Meg Williams of the Colorado Department of Public Safety; Chief Patrick J. Flannelly of the Lafayette Police Department in Indiana; the Honorable Denise Navaree Cubbon, Administrative Judge in Lucas County, Ohio; and Matt Reed, executive director of the YMCA in Louisville, Ky.

Witnesses discussed ways to reform the country’s juvenile justice system to promote safe communities and set at-risk youth on the pathway to success. The press release for the event tells the story of a young person’s changed trajectory as a result of preventative intervention:

Mr. Reed’s testimony discussed his work with at-risk youth for more than 20 years. He said effective and evidence-based solutions play an important role in keeping kids out of the juvenile justice system. Reed shared the story of 12-year-old Cassidy, who grew up in a troubled home where drug dealing and usage often occurred. In the summer of 2012, as a freshman in high school, Cassidy was arrested after her home was raided by law enforcement. “[Cassidy’s] mom had refused to give up any of the dealers, choosing instead to pin it on Cassidy,” Reed said. “She watched her daughter taken off in handcuffs.”

As the charges were resolved, Cassidy went into the YMCA’s shelter program and soon moved in with her grandparents. She began working with a case manager at the YMCA’s Safe Place—spending several months in counseling and at family team meetings. Cassidy also participated in community service at the YMCA and committed herself to extra tutoring. As a result of these efforts, her life began to improve. “Cassidy received her high school diploma in August of 2014,” Reed said, explaining the value of community-based programs. “She indeed went to college and is enrolled today at the University of Louisville.”

The House hearing is seen as a step toward the 115th Congress passing reauthorized and updated Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) legislation, which saw a near miss in the 114th Congress when a JJDPA bill—which included updates supporting the preventative and restorative roles afterschool and community-based programming like YMCAs can play in youth development—passed the House, but did not pass the Senate.

The Senate will be holding its own committee hearing on the JJDPA legislation, “Improving Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System,” on Tuesday, February 28.