Update: JJDPA Stalls in Senate

February 12, 2016

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA)and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) took to the Senate floor today to ask members to approve S. 1169 by unanimous consent. The bill would reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which serves as the landmark federal legislation related to juvenile justice in the United States. 

The bill was opposed by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), who took objection to the bill's phase-out of the valid court order (VCO) exception. This provision is used to incarcerate young people for status offense behaviors such as skipping school, running away from home, and missing curfew. Currently, these behaviors are illegal only for children and cannot carry jail time for adults. More than 700 children were incarcerated through the VCO in Cotton's home state in fiscal year 2014. 

As a result of Senator Cotton's action, the JJDPA remains in the Senate. It was last reauthorized in 2002. 

Senator Grassley and Senator Whitehouse's bill seeks to: 

  • prohibit incarcerated youth who are awaiting trial in the adult court system from being placed in adult jails; 
  • phase out the valid court order (VCO) exception (states would have three years to stop using the loophole); and 
  • ensure that girls in the juvenile justice system can no longer be shackled while giving birth. 

The bill was introduced on April 30, 2015 by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It has continued to receive broad bipartisan support and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 23, 2015. 

Before the bill can become law, the Senate will have to approve the measure and the House will have to consider and pass a similar bill. Both chambers have until the end of 2016, when the 114th Congress comes to an end, to take this action.