Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Landmark Juvenile Justice Legislation

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org 

Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Landmark Juvenile Justice Legislation

Senate Should Pass Bill Quickly, Says ACLU

WASHINGTON - A
bill that updates and improves key elements of the juvenile justice
system was passed today by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill, S.
678, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization
Act, will reauthorize standards set by the original Juvenile Justice
and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA) and will continue
funding to protect the rights of juveniles in the criminal justice
system. The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 12 - 7.
 

"For
35 years, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has
provided states and localities with standards and funding for improving
juvenile justice," said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the
American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. "The
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act will
make much needed changes to existing law and ensure that we do a better
job of protecting and reforming our at-risk youth. We now urge the
Senate to swiftly pass the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Reauthorization Act."

Throughout
the country, children who are prosecuted through juvenile courts for
status offenses - offenses that would not be criminal but for the age
of the offender - remain subject to boilerplate conditions of release
and, unfortunately, the circumstances that lead a particular child to
commit his or her first status offense often go unaddressed.
Predictably, the child often commits the same offense again, landing in
secure detention as a result. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention Reauthorization Act would phase out those boilerplate
conditions, ensuring that many juveniles could avoid ending up in the
"school to prison pipeline."
 

During
the markup of today's bill, an amendment was offered by Senator Jeff
Sessions (R-AL) that would have given prosecutors - rather than a
neutral judge - the authority to decide whether to prosecute a youth as
an adult for certain federal crimes, including for attempting or
conspiring to commit those crimes and for any related crimes.
Thankfully, the amendment was defeated. The amendment would have
undermined the original intent of the JJDPA, which was passed because
lawmakers recognized children have unique and special needs that simply
cannot be met by the adult system. Today, this is particularly true of
girls, an often overlooked aspect of the juvenile justice system.

 
"The
current juvenile justice system disproportionally affects girls, who
represent 14 percent of delinquent children in custody but 40 percent
of status offenders in custody," said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU
Legislative Counsel. "Girls often run away because of unstable or
abusive home environments, making incarceration a particularly cruel
and illogical response to their situations. The Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act will address the root of
these issues rather than continuing the punitive cycle so many of
America's youth are currently enduring."

 
To read the ACLU's letter of support for the JJDPA, go to:

www.aclu.org/racial-justice-womens-rights/aclu-letter-support-s-678-juvenile-justice-and-delinquency-prevention-r
 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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