Grassley bill reauthorizes juvenile justice programs with improved accountability

Court -- GavelFrom Press Release


Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse today are introducing legislation to ensure that at-risk youth are fairly and effectively served by juvenile justice grant programs. Their legislation updates existing law by promoting improved transparency and accountability at the state and federal level.  It also adds additional support for youth with mental illnesses and guards against fraud and mismanagement of grant funds through enhanced oversight.

“Juvenile justice programs are important tools to help local communities serve and protect at-risk youth, however it hasn’t been revisited in more than a dozen years.  Our bill provides a long-overdue policy refresh to improve opportunities for our nation’s must vulnerable children and strengthen safeguards for youth who encounter the juvenile justice system.  Our bill also creates measures to tackle fraud and waste so that our youth can benefit from the programs’ full potential,” Grassley said.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was created in 1974 to ensure the safety of at-risk youth who enter the criminal justice system, and assist states with their juvenile justice programs and activities.  The program has not been updated since 2002 and is due to be reauthorized this year.  The Grassley-Whitehouse bill improves the existing law by:

• requiring the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to identify best practices to serve and protect at-risk youth;
• calling for a greater focus on mental health and substance abuse;
• expanding training to support judges who work with juvenile cases;
• encouraging greater cooperation between programs and state authorities;
• phasing out remaining circumstance in which youth offenders may be detained for “status” offenses, which would not be crimes if committed by adults;
* offering guidance on identifying and reducing racial and ethnic disparities among youth in the juvenile justice system, and creating safeguards to improve juvenile reentry services; and
• improving transparency and accountability.

A list of the bill’s key provisions is available HERE.

A number of whistleblowers have alleged that many states fall short of core requirements to receive the taxpayer-funded grants, and the Justice Department office responsible for overseeing the program has admitted it has had an unlawful policy in place since 1997 that allowed states to receive these grants despite violations of funding requirements.  This prompted Grassley and Whitehouse to craft new accountability requirements to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately, and youth are being adequately served.

The following are prepared remarks Grassley gave from the Senate floor regarding the bill:

Mr. President, today I am introducing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015.  Senator Whitehouse is joining me in this effort.  This measure would improve our nation’s response to juvenile offenders in the criminal justice system.

For the last 40 or so years, the federal government, through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, or JJDPA, has provided guidelines and resources to help states serve troubled adolescents.  This 1974 law provides juvenile justice dollars to states and sets four core requirements for states that choose to accept these federal funds.  The law also created the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Justice Department.

A centerpiece of the current statute is its standards for the treatment of at-risk youth who come into contact with our criminal justice system.  But these standards have not been updated since 2002, and the law’s authorization has expired.

Since Congress last extended the law more than a dozen years ago, evidence has emerged that some of the JJDPA’s provisions need to be improved or strengthened to reflect the latest research on adolescent development.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have made this law’s renewal a priority.  The bill I am introducing would extend the statute for five years and update its provisions to reflect the latest research on what works with troubled adolescents.

The bill also would continue Congress’ commitment to help state and local jurisdictions improve their juvenile justice systems, through a program of formula grants.  At the same time, the bill would improve the oversight and accountability of this grant program in several key ways. Such accountability measures are vitally needed to ensure the grant program’s integrity.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from whistleblowers last week that the Justice Department is failing to hold participating states accountable for meeting the JJDPA’s four core requirements.  After I wrote several letters concerning these whistleblower allegations, the Justice Department admitted to having a flawed compliance monitoring policy in place since 1997.  This policy allowed states to receive JJDPA formula grants in violation of the law’s funding requirements.

Witnesses at last week’s Senate Judiciary hearing recounted violations of law, mismanagement, and waste of limited juvenile justice grant funds, in addition to retaliation against whistleblowers.

This is an injustice not only to the taxpayers but also to the youth who face inadequate juvenile justice systems.  It’s also an injustice to the children who end up in the justice system as a result of poor experience in the foster care system.

Shortcomings in the juvenile justice system won’t be solved overnight.  But I look forward to taking the lead on legislation in the 114th Congress that will make measurable improvements.

In closing, Mr. President, numerous organizations have worked with us on the development of this bill, and I thank them for their contributions.  I also thank Senator Whitehouse for his cosponsorship of the legislation, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting its passage.