It’s been 10 years since the expiration of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which created America’s federal standards for the treatment of juvenile offenders. Efforts to reauthorize the legislation have failed repeatedly.

However, the Senate last week passed its version of the JJDPA reauthorization bill—S. 860, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act—a development that gives hope to juvenile justice reform advocates across the country.

Previous reauthorization attempts faced significant hurdles. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., held the bill last year over an objection to phasing out of the valid court order (VCO) exception. VCOs allow state and local systems to detain youth for committing so-called “status offenses” like running away from home, truancy, underage smoking and curfew violations – things that wouldn’t be crimes but for the age of the perpetrator. The VCO exception, Cotton argued, grants state courts additional options when dealing with juvenile offenders.

But Cotton’s opposition prompted a hold from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who stated he would not support the bill without the phase-out. Ultimately at an impasse, last year’s negotiations ran out of time.

For reauthorization to be successful, both the House and Senate bills must be agreed upon in conference committee and then passed by both chambers of Congress. Leaders on the issue in the House released a statement shortly after news of S. 860’s passage, expressing commitment to crafting a final reauthorization bill alongside their Senate colleagues.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., are leading the Senate effort. It is anticipated the bill will reach the president’s desk before the end of this congressional session.


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