House Hears Testimony On Juvenile Justice Legislation

April 21, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The House Education and Labor Committee met today to hear testimony on reforming the juvenile justice system. Witnesses included a juvenile court judge, a juvenile corrections officer and a woman whose child committed suicide while being held in an adult penitentiary.

Currently, there is an important bill awaiting a floor vote in the Senate that would reauthorize standards set by the original Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA) and would continue funding to protect the rights of juveniles in the criminal justice system. The bill, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act, was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in December. The House has yet to introduce any legislation addressing the JJDPA.

“The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has provided states and localities with standards and funding for improving juvenile justice for over 35 years,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. “It is a crucial law that needs the full support of Congress. The House should follow the Senate’s lead and move quickly on legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. We must ensure that we do a better job of protecting and reforming America’s at-risk youth.”

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.”

The current juvenile justice system also routinely and disproportionately affects girls, who represent a small number of delinquent children in custody but almost half of status offenders in custody.

“Our current juvenile justice system is not serving our youth well, and this is especially true for many girls for whom incarceration is not only the inappropriate answer but is also a cruel one for those attempting to escape unstable or abusive home environments when they run away,” said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “It is crucial that we address the root of these issues rather than continuing the punitive cycle that so many of America’s youth are currently enduring. We encourage the House to introduce legislation promptly to address these issues.”

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

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