Legislation for juvenile justice programs includes Leahy-authored efforts combatting youth homelessness

NEWS RELEASE – WASHINGTON, July 23, 2015: The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has helped provide crucial services for young people for the last 40 years.  Included in the measure were several provisions authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to prevent youth homelessness and improve reentry programs.

“The rise of runaway and homeless youth is a problem both nationally and in Vermont, and it is an issue that I have been working to address,” said Leahy, the Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee and its most senior member.  “Young people who enter the juvenile justice system are more likely to face homelessness once they are released.  If we are thoughtful in our approach, we can make sure young people returning to our communities are equipped to succeed.  Through this bill, we have an opportunity to do just that.”

Leahy led previous efforts to reauthorize JJDPA, and worked with Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on the bill reported by the Committee on Thursday.  The provisions authored by Leahy include requiring a reentry plan for every child released from custody to include a description of where that young person will live, and collecting information on the type of living arrangements juveniles enter upon release.  Taken together, these provisions are designed to ensure that juveniles have a safe place to go when they are released.  The bill also includes resources to train judges and court personnel to ensure they are better equipped to handle cases.

In Vermont, JJDPA has supported important services for young people and those who care for them.  The Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) leads programs to identify youth at risk of being removed from their families, and address the underlying issues in those cases.  The Strengthening Families Program helps families and children with open DCF cases, and through its efforts the number of children removed from their families has dropped significantly.  Funding from the JJDPA also supports juvenile drug courts in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties and a truancy prevention program in Chittenden County.  All of these efforts address the underlying causes of delinquency to prevent criminal behavior and help young people get back on track.

Earlier this year, Leahy sought to advance in the full Senate his bipartisan Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevent Act.  On Thursday he reiterated the need for Congress to support prevention programs to protect these vulnerable children, who too often become vulnerable to trafficking and lives of crime.

“It is not surprising that many youth without a safe place to go often return to our juvenile detention facilities, sometimes engaging in criminal behavior just to survive.  We need to stop this revolving door, and live up to our responsibility to heal our nation’s children in need.  Congress must act,” Leahy said.

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Advocates Call On Senate To Support Improvements In Juvenile Justice Programs

  • “Some young people exit juvenile detention without any reentry plan in place and enter homelessness which increases the likelihood they will return to detention again.” Darla Bardine, Executive Director the National Network for Youth 
  • “In Vermont, we have used the funds authorized by the JJDPA to support delinquency prevention and system improvement programs, including restorative justice and positive youth development approaches, truancy prevention projects and the development of valid risk and needs screening and assessment instruments. These funds have allowed Vermont to make improvements that have led to better outcomes for youth and kept our communities safe.” Ken Shatz, Commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families
  • “Judges make critical decisions in the lives of youth caught up in the criminal justice system, decisions that can make the difference between a productive adult life and a life spent in jail.  Their capacity to make the right decision depends on our ability to ensure that they not only know the law, but also the results of evidence based research on what works and what does not.” Amy Davenport, Vermont’s former Chief Administrative Judge.
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