House-approved juvenile justice bill heads to President Trump

If enacted, the bill would dictate that states promote community-based alternatives to detaining young offenders


By Katie Mulvaney
The Providence Journal

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed by unanimous consent a bill that aims to overhaul the juvenile justice system in America by putting in place extra protections for at-risk and traumatized teens.

The vote signals a major victory for Rhode Island's U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who wrote the bill with Republican U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, of Iowa. Together they have worked to see it through since 2014.

The bill, which passed the Senate late Tuesday, will now head to President Donald Trump for a signature.

If enacted, the proposal would require states to comply with its provisions in order to receive certain federal funding. It would dictate that states employ trauma-informed screening for youth who enter the system, and promote community-based alternatives to detaining young offenders. Judges would no longer be able to hold youths for offenses such as truancy, running away, or violating tobacco and alcohol laws.

Other provisions include clear direction to states about evidence-based approaches to ensure fairness and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the system, according to an overview. It would make it easier, too, for students to transfer education credits earned while incarcerated and strengthen incentives for states to reduce the likelihood that juveniles will re-offend. Improvements would be mandated to address female offenders who had experienced sexual violence or trafficking.

According to the news release, the landmark Juvenile Justice Prevention Act was enacted in 1974 to ensure the safety of at-risk youth who enter the juvenile justice system and assist states with developing programs and activities to prevent delinquency. It requires state juvenile justice systems to ensure certain protections for young offenders, including separating detained youth from adult inmates and seeking to eliminate disparities based on ethnicity and race. The last time it was updated was in 2002 and it has not been reauthorized for years.

Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, on Wednesday praised the bill's emphasis on mental-health and addiction screening and treatment, and its trauma-informed approach. It would strengthen the juvenile justice system's reliance on community-based alternatives instead of detention and work to keep young offenders, who often intersect with the child welfare system, from re-offending, she said.

If signed by President Trump, the act would be reauthorized for five years.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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