House Committee Approves Federal Juvenile Justice Law
Last week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce unanimously approved the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (H.R. 5963), which would expand behavioral health services to justice-involved youth as a part of a larger plan to prevent juvenile delinquency.
H.R. 5963 is the long-awaited reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has provided states with federal standards and supports for improving their juvenile justice and delinquency prevention practices for over 40 years. H.R. 5963 includes a number of important updates to JJDPA that provide direction to states on how to better address the behavioral health needs of justice-involved youth. Specifically, the bill requires state juvenile justice systems to:
- Provide improved screening, assessment, and treatment for incarcerated youth with mental illness or addictions.
- Divert first-time offenders with behavioral health conditions to treatment programs.
- Implement practices that are both trauma-informed and evidence-based.
- Reduce young people’s exposure to trauma by reducing the placement of youth in adult jails pre-trial, promoting alternatives to incarceration, and requiring states to phase out exceptions that allow the detention of youth who have engaged in status offense behaviors, thereby avoiding unnecessary incarceration for nonviolent youth.
- Eliminate dangerous practices in confinement (including eliminating the use of restraints on pregnant girls) through the use of alternative behavior management techniques.
- Improve screening of and alternatives to detention for girls who have been trafficked or experienced sexual violence.
Earlier this week, the bill was debated upon the House floor, but the vote was postponed until a later date. It remains to be seen what votes will take place before Congress adjourns next week for what is likely the duration of this campaign season.