Juvenile Justice Reauthorization: What’s in Both Bills

logo-chronicle (2)Youth Services Insider recently broke down some of the substantive differences between the House and Senate bills to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The JJDPA has not been reauthorized since 2002, and it’s ten years overdue for an update.

Click here to read that column, which looks at some of the higher profile aspects of the legislation. Following is a breakdown of the fine print, so to speak – some of the more significant changes that both chambers have already agreed on in their respective bills.


The bills narrow the definition of “jail or lockup for adults” to mean only secure facilities that are “used to confine adult inmates.” The current definition includes any secure facility that confines “adults.”

Also, the bill officially reclassifies “contact” as “sight or sound contact,” and includes a few caveats that would exclude a person from being defined as an adult inmate.

New Definitions

Both chambers add a slew of new terms to the federal lexicon when it comes to juvenile justice. Among them are the following:

  • Core requirements
  • Chemical agent
  • Isolation (which includes spending 10-plus minutes alone in a room during the day, with a very long list of exceptions)
  • Restraints
  • Evidence-based
  • Dangerous practice
  • Screening
  • Assessment
  • Contact
  • Trauma-informed
  • Racial and ethnic disparity

Holding Transferred Youth

Three years after passage of the reauthorization, states will be required to have a hearing process in place to determine whether a juvenile being tried as an adult can be confined in a “jail or lockup for adults.”

Right now a state would not be afoul of the JJDPA for leaving a transferred youth in jail, as long as he had no sight or sound contact with adults. Under this change, that would only be possible if a judge decreed it through a hearing.

Some Teeth in Disproportionate Minority Contact

The fourth core requirement of the JJPDA, Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC), was added in 2002, the last time the bill was updated. There has long been criticism that it is a relatively murky standard that allows states to do very little in order to be deemed compliant.

This bill would give DMC some teeth by requiring states make more effort. Two things states would need to demonstrate they are doing:

  • Implementing policy, practice, and system improvement strategies at the state, territorial, local, and tribal levels, as applicable, to identify and reduce racial and ethnic disparities among youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
  • Identify and analyze “key decision points in state, local, or tribal juvenile justice systems to determine which points create racial and ethnic disparities among youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.”

Compliance Monitoring

A few changes relevant to state action:

  • The minimum formula grant for compliance to the smallest states goes up from $325,000 to $400,000.
  • Right now, states are required to have one full-time person on compliance with the JJDPA. That is relaxed to “one person,” meaning it could be a part-time worker or one part of a larger full-time position.
  • Each state advisory group must report every two years on its perspective about the state’s compliance with core requirements.

Noncompliance Consequence

As is the case now, states face a 20 percent cut to formula grants if they fail to comply with one of the four core requirements. But under the bill, the state could get that money if it agrees to spend half of its total formula grant on addressing the compliance problem.

The bill also codifies what happens to juvenile justice funds that are unallocated due to compliance problems. Half of it will be redistributed to states that have “not failed to comply with the core requirements,” and the other have will go to technical assistance that promotes compliance.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) will be required annually to publish a public report about compliance determinations and the “basis for findings of noncompliance.” This was music to the ears of Youth Services Insider, because that has not been readily available before. Combined with the reports from state advisory groups, we should learn a good deal about why states come up short on some of the national standards.


There is also plenty in the bill to bring transparency to OJJDP’s process for monitoring state compliance. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the co-authors of the Senate bill, recently took the agency to task for its lapses in maintaining the integrity of the compliance process.

How does the bill accomplish this? Mostly through requiring a lot of different people to report to Congress about it. A few are one-time assessments; others are annualized reporting processes.

Within a year of the bill’s passage, the Comptroller General must perform a “comprehensive analysis and evaluation regarding the performance of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, its functions, its programs, and its grants.

Also in short order, the Attorney General’s office must submit information on any grant funds disbursed by the agency since fiscal year 2010 that “did not meet the requirements for awards of formula grants to States under Title II.”

Among the annual mandates:

An audit by the Inspector General’s office at the Department of Justice (see yesterday’s column for how that might be carried out). Unresolved audit issues can result in a two-year freeze-out from OJJDP grants.

A report by OJJDP, released every fiscal year. This must include one-month snapshot data on a few new items of interest to Congress:

  • Use of restraints
  • Petitioning of status offenses and detention of status offenders
  • Breakdown of youth’s planned living arrangements upon release from facilities
  • Number of offenses that originate on school grounds
  • Number of girls who are pregnant while detained or confined in juvenile facilities

The Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which already produces an annual report, must hone the focus of its annual report on the core requirements and release the report within 120 days of its final meeting each year.

Free/Reduced Lunch

As locations required to provide education, justice facilities are eligible to receive reimbursement for eligible youth under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. The bills instruct the Attorney General and the Secretary of Agriculture to issue a guidance to states making their options clear on this point.

More Training

Both bills expand the percentage of funds that OJJDP can spend on technical assistance from 2 percent to 5 percent of its budget. The larger pool of resources could be supplied by the aforementioned pool of unallocated money left on the table by states out of compliance.

National Recidivism Measure

OJJDP made some grants in the late 2000s aimed at developing a national recidivism measure, but little came of it. Looks like Congress wants the agency to take another swing at it.

The bill calls for OJJDP to “establish a uniform method of data collection and technology that States may use to evaluate data on juvenile recidivism on an annual basis.” This would be used to create a “common national juvenile recidivism measurement system,” and data related to this would be collected from states and be made available to the public.

From the government funder’s perspective, taxpayer money directed at this field is headed out the door to stop youth from committing more crimes. The problem is that using recidivism as a unit of measurement gives an illusion of consistency where none exists. Certain states and counties call a subsequent arrest recidivism; others only consider it recidivism when a subsequent conviction occurs. Some systems track recidivism six months or a year after completion of a program or sentence; others at three years.

But the issue goes beyond simple calculation. The field also needs more robust indicators of what constitutes “success” on recidivism, broken down by types of offenders. Is a 35 percent recidivism rate good? Maybe not if you are running a diversion program for first-time offenders.

But if your program handles mostly juvenile felons with long records, 35 percent is unbelievably good compared to what came before. Some common agreement on calculating recidivism might help spur that further analysis.

By John Kelly

Written By Chronicle Of Social Change

Juvenile Justice Reauthorization: What’s in Both Bills was originally published @ The Chronicle of Social Change and has been syndicated with permission.

Photo by Gatorgoon


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