A decade after Congress allowed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act’s authorization to expire, legislation to reauthorize the bill is moving to the House floor following today’s successful markup by the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

First authorized in 1974, the JJDPA has been an important tool in protecting children who are in custody of the criminal-justice system. Based on broad consensus standards of care, the law ensures that children held for “status offenses”—that is, those that are only illegal because they were committed by someone under the age of majority—can’t be held in jails or prisons unless the child also committed a criminal offense. Another crucial provision of the law requires that, if a child is to be detained, there must be a “sight and sound” separation from adult offenders.

The JJDPA has not been reauthorized since it expired in 2007. The current House bill is the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, introduced last week by Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Jason Lewis, R-Minn. A Senate companion is expected to be introduced next week.

While one should always bear federalism concerns in mind when the federal government sets out standards for issues that clearly are in the states’ purview, it’s encouraging that the JJDPA is back on Congress’ agenda. This is an important piece of legislation that helps ensure children are protected and gives them the opportunity to grow and flourish in their communities.

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