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House Education Committee Backs Bill to Overhaul Federal Juvenile-Justice Law

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 15, 2016 3 min read
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The House education committee unanimously backed a bill to change policies and practices governing juvenile-justice and at-risk youth and reported it favorably to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

The Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act of 2016, if approved, would become the newest version of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. First passed in 1974, the law governs juvenile-justice and delinquency programs, as well as research and technical assistance for those efforts.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and had the support of the leading two members of the education panel, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the committee chairman, and Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, the top Democrat.

Here are some of the key provisions of the bill, H.R. 5963, highlighted by lawmakers during the Wednesday committee vote. The legislation would:

  • Require more data-collection and reporting about children in the juvenile-justice system, with a particular focus on highlighting racial and ethnic disparities at several points in the system.
  • Give state and local juvenile-justice programs more flexibility to meet the needs of delinquent and at-risk children in their communities.
  • Support a “continuum of evidence-based or promising programs” that rely in part on “trauma-informed” services for children and families.
  • Attempt to ensure a better transition for children coming out of juvenile-justice facilities through education programs and family services.
  • Changes the definition of adult inmate to specify that it cannot include someone who, at the time of his or her offense, is “younger than the maximum age at which a youth can be held in a juvenile facility under applicable State law.” Within three years of passage of the act, it would also ban those in juvenile-detention centers from having any “sight or sound contacts with adult inmates.”
  • Promote efforts to end “dangerous practices” in these programs (those that cause an “unreasonable risk” of physical injury or pain, or psychological harm), as well as “unreasonable” restraints and seclusions.
  • State that programs working with at-risk or delinquent young people seeking federal grants must conduct a needs-assessment of their communities, and show how their programs would meet those needs.

Discussing his bill, Curbelo said it would provide opportunities for young people who often think they are out of options. And he said it would “help deliver positive outcomes for some of our nation’s most vulnerable kids.”

In his opening statement, Kline praised Curbelo as well as Scott for their attention to the issue. Scott, he said, has continuously raised the issue as a top priority for the committee.

During his remarks about the bill, Scott put the legislation in the context of efforts to end the school-to-prison pipeline, the ESSA, and the recent guidance from federal agencies about police in schools. (More on those last two issues below.)

“We can both reduce crime and save money,” Scott said.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduced an amendment to ban the use of corporal punishment in schools. Polis ultimately withdrew the amendment, but not before highlighting an extensive Education Week analysis highlighting various aspects of corporal punishment in the K-12 system; Polis called the practice “medieval.”

Related Juvenile-Justice Activity

Separately, ESSA made some changes for students being educated in the juvenile-justice system. For instance, the new law tries to improve the transfer of credits from students’ juvenile-justice education programs to traditional public schools. The law also requires “timely re-enrollment” in students’ traditional public schools or other appropriate educational program when they depart the juvenile-justice system.

And last week, President Barack Obama’s administration released new resources to help schools with the hiring and training of police.

It’s the second time recently that the House education committee has given bipartisan backing to a reauthorization bill related to education. In the summer, the committee unanimously approved legislation to overhaul the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act—that legislation was approved by the full House on Sept. 13. And of course, ESSA was passed with bipartisan backing late last year.

Read the full Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act of 2016.

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