Congressmen Rally Behind Juvenile-Justice Reform

WASHINGTON (CN) – In something of a departure for Capitol Hill these days, advocates of juvenile-justice reform faced little opposition Wednesday in pushing members of a House subcommittee to revive a bill that never made it out of the Senate last year.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevent Act would have allowed state and local agencies to help at-risk youth avoid the criminal-justice system by developing alternative programs and “evidence-based strategies.”

Lawmakers in the House passed the bill with only 29 votes against last year after it came out of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, but it was swallowed up in the Senate by the calendar’s busy end and never went to the president.

At a hearing Wednesday of the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, four advocates of reform commended the sparse gathering of lawmakers for not letting the issue fade.

“This hearing is a positive signal that Congress is prioritizing a reauthorization [of the bill], and we are grateful that you are keeping the drumbeat alive,” said Denise Cubbon, an administrative judge in Lucas County Juvenile Court in Ohio.

Matt Reed, executive director of YMCA Safe Place Services of Louisville, Kentucky, testified about some of the children whom outreach can help.

Cassidy, a girl helped by Reed’s group, was first exposed to drugs at age 12. She lived in a house teeming with armed and using dealers. Some of the sales were even conducted in Cassidy’s bedroom. Cassidy missed 92 days of school her freshman year, Reed said.

When Cassidy’s mother was caught with drugs and guns, she blamed Cassidy instead of the drug dealers in the home. Reed said his group helped Cassidy move in with her grandparents where she eventually scored highly on the ACT. She now attends the University of Louisville.

For proponents of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act, reform will keep more young people like Cassidy from falling out of mainstream society at their first run-in with the law.

“This important, critical reform work is needed and your diligence and dedication is greatly appreciated by all of us across the country,” Reed told the committee.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., also noted that focusing on prevention will ensure lower costs for taxpayers.

“I think that it’s important to note that all of the discussion about how we can effectively reduce crime has been focused on prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation, not in the after-the-fact, simple-minded slogans and sound bites of how much punishment we can inflict and waste the taxpayers’ money,” Scott said at the hearing.

Cubbon, the juvenile court judge from Lucas County, Ohio, said the reform efforts must focus on improving training, increasing protections for young people in juvenile-detention centers, and make preventative programs more available for at-risk youth.

“Let’s be honest, Cubbon said. “If we have high-risk and moderate-risk behaving children that we can give them appropriate services to change their behaviors, then we have a likelihood of what? A safer community.”