HarrisCountyJuvenileJusticeCenterAs chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and as part of my Victims Reform Agenda, I’ve put reform and renewal of the juvenile justice law on the committee’s docket. The 40-plus year old Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has provided guidelines and resources to help states serve troubled adolescents in their local communities. The 1974 federal law authorizes juvenile justice dollars to states and sets four core requirements for those who choose to participate in this federal grant program.

Reauthorizing the law, along with incorporating new ideas and accountability standards, has been a priority.  My committee conducted a congressional hearing in April where witnesses testified about violations of law, mismanagement and waste of limited juvenile justice grant funds, in addition to retaliation against whistleblowers.

Then last week, I introduced legislation to reauthorize the law and ensure that at-risk youth are fairly and effectively served by juvenile justice grant programs. The legislation I introduced with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse updates existing law by promoting improved transparency and accountability at the state and federal levels.  It also adds additional support for youth with mental illnesses and guards against fraud and mismanagement of grant funds through enhanced oversight.

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Require the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to identify best practices to serve and protect at-risk youth;
  • Call for a greater focus on mental health and substance abuse;
  • Expand training to support judges who work with juvenile cases;
  • Phase out remaining circumstances in which youth offenders may be detained for “status” offenses (crimes, such as truancy or running away from home, that only apply to minors), which would not be crimes if committed by adults;
  • Offer guidance on identifying and reducing racial and ethnic disparities among youth in the juvenile justice system, and creating safeguards to improve juvenile reentry services; and
  • Improve transparency and accountability.

I look forward to moving our bill forward and making measurable improvements to in the lives of troubled youth.

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