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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today with Senator LEAHY and Senator SPECTER to introduce the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, JJDPA, has played a key role in successful state and local efforts to reduce juvenile crime and get kids back on track after they have had run-ins with the law. This legislation will reauthorize and make significant improvements to these important programs.

A successful strategy to combat juvenile crime consists of a large dose of prevention and intervention programs. Juvenile justice programs have proven time and time again that they help prevent crime, strengthen communities, and rehabilitate juvenile offenders. The JJDPA has always had a dual focus: prevention and rehabilitation.

The JJDPA has successfully focused on intervening in a positive manner to work with those teens that have fallen through the cracks and have had a few scrapes with the law. Many of the juveniles who come into contact with the justice system are not violent offenders or gang members. Rather, they are young people who have made mistakes and deserve a second chance to succeed and lead healthy lives. In fact, seventy percent of youth in detention are held for nonviolent charges. Research has shown that youth who come into contact with the justice system can be rehabilitated, and we have an obligation to support successful programs that do just that.

While putting young people on the right path after they have had run-ins with the law is tremendously important, we would all prefer to keep them from getting into trouble in the first place. Title V, of course, is the only federal program that is dedicated exclusively to juvenile crime prevention. Evidence-based prevention programs are proven to reduce crime. Because each child prevented from engaging in repeat criminal offenses can save the community $1.7 to $3.4 million, reducing crime actually saves money. Research has shown that every dollar spent on effective, evidence based programs can yield up to $13 in cost savings.

Since the last reauthorization in 2002, research and experience have revealed that there is still room for improvement. That is why we are proposing a number of changes to the Act.

Under Title II, the existing JJDPA requires states to comply with certain core requirements that are designed to protect and assist in the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. This legislation makes improvements to four of the core requirements--removal of juveniles from adult jails, preventing contact between juvenile offenders and adult inmates, the deinstitutionalization of status offenders, and disproportionate minority contact, DMC.

The legislation would amend the jail removal and sight and sound requirements to ensure that juveniles charged as adults are not placed in an adult facility or allowed to have contact with adult inmates unless a court finds that it is in the interest of justice to do so. Research has shown that juveniles who spend time in adult jails am more likely to reoffend. Therefore, it is critical that we get judges more involved in this process to ensure that it is in everyone's best interest, but particularly the juvenile's best interest, to place that young person in an adult facility.

This measure would also place important limitations on the valid court order exception to the deinstitutionalization of status offenders. Under the current JJDPA, courts can order status offenders to be placed in secure detention with minimal process and no limit on duration. We seek to change both of these. This bill would place a 7 day limit on the amount of time a status offender can spend in a secure facility, and ensure that juvenile status offenders have significant procedural protections.

In addition, the legislation will push states to take concrete steps to identify the causes of disproportionate minority contact and take meaningful steps to achieve concrete reductions.

The bill also focuses a great deal of attention on improving cooperation between the states and the Federal Government in the area of juvenile justice. It directs the administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice to conduct additional research. It seeks to strengthen the amount of training and technical assistance provided by the Federal Government, particularly workforce training for those people who work directly with juveniles at every stage of the juvenile justice system.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act would improve treatment of juveniles in two important respects. It seeks to end the use of improper isolation and dangerous practices, and it encourages the use of best practices and alternatives to detention.

This measure also places a greater focus on mental health and substance abuse treatment for juveniles who come into contact, or are at risk of coming into contact, with the juvenile justice system. Research has shown that the prevalence of mental disorders among youth in juvenile justice systems is two to three times higher than among youth who have not had run-ins with the law. Taking meaningful steps to provide adequate mental health screening and treatment for these juveniles is a critical part of getting them on the right track, and needs to be a part of Federal, State and local efforts to rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, the key to success is adequate support. Funding for juvenile justice programs has been on a downward spiral for the last seven years. Just five years ago, these programs received approximately $556 million, with more than $94 million for the Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Program and nearly $250 million for the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program. This year, the Administration requested just $250 million for all juvenile justice programs, which represents more than a 50 percent cut from Fiscal Year 2002. Local communities do a great job of leveraging this funding to accomplish great things, but we cannot say with a straight face that this level is sufficient.

Therefore, we are seeking to authorize increased funding for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The bill will authorize more than $272 million for Title V and nearly $200 million for Title II in Fiscal Year 2009. Then, funding for each title will increase by $50 million each subsequent fiscal year. These programs are in desperate need of adequate funding. It is money well spent, and this increase in authorized funding will demonstrate Congressional support for these critical programs.

In addition to increased funding for traditional JJDPA programs, we have created a new incentive grant program under the Act. This program authorizes another $60 million per year to help local communities to supplement efforts under the Act, and in some cases go above and beyond what is required of them. Specifically, this funding will support evidence based and promising prevention and intervention programs. It will enhance workforce training, which will improve the treatment and rehabilitation of juveniles who come into contact with the system. Lastly, a significant portion of this funding will be dedicated to mental health screening and treatment of juveniles who have come into contact, or are at risk of coming into contact, with the justice system.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act is an incredibly successful program. The fact that it is cost efficient is important. But the most important thing is that it is effective. It is effective in reaching the kids it is designed to help. The evidence based prevention programs it funds are able to touch the lives of at-risk youth and steer them away from a life of crime. And for those who have unfortunately already had run-ins with law enforcement, its intervention and treatment programs have successfully helped countless kids get their lives back on the right track and become productive members of society.

It is beyond dispute that these proven programs improve and strengthen young people, as well as their families and their communities. For that reason, we urge our colleagues to support this important measure to reauthorize and improve these programs.

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