Aug 20

Juvenile justice bill clears the senate, on to final step

On August 1, updated juvenile justice bill (S. 860) passed the full Senate by voice vote, representing a large step forward in the long overdue reauthorization of the legislation. Last year in the 114th Congress, bills to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) passed through the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee before getting stalled on the Senate floor.

The updates in the Senate juvenile justice bill would match current knowledge on evidence-based best practices in the field, including using adolescent development-, mental health-, and trauma-informed practice and encouraging alternatives to incarceration. The bill also seeks to reduce or eliminate dangerous practices, including—when possible—keeping youth out of contact (both sight and sound) with adult offenders. The bill would establish changes to enhance reporting and accountability measures. The full list of goals for updated legislation from the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition can be seen here.

In a press release from Fight Crime, Invest in Kids, the group of sheriffs, police chiefs, and prosecutors congratulated the Senate on S. 860. “For 91 percent of juveniles facing custody, diversion to local, effective youth programs reduced the rate of re-offending more than placement in juvenile facilities.” The release continued, “Because they cut recidivism, the interventions can also save the public between $6,000 and $26,000 per youth served, a stark contrast to the $88,000 average cost of one year for one youth in juvenile custody.”

Updates to the legislation have broad, bipartisan support. To complete the reauthorization process, the House and Senate must now form a conference committee to agree upon one final version of the bill when they return to work in September. As the conference process may encounter challenges around provisions such as the valid court order, advocates are keeping up the drum beat to move the reauthorization bills through into law.

Currently, the House version (H.R. 1809) includes an explicit mention of afterschool programs and mentoring as an evidence-based use of prevention funding which would be nice to see in any final version of the bill.

Afterschool programs play an important role in providing youth with the safe spaces, caring adults, and social and emotional supports that can keep them focused on their long term success. For example, the city of Athens, Georgia in collaboration with the University of Georgia School of Social Work recently concluded task force survey on gang prevention wherein parents and youth placed afterschool/ youth development programs high on their list of prevention focused opportunities. You can read the full article here.