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A Light at the End of a Long Tunnel for JJDPA Reauthorization?

You may recall that Sen. Whitehouse and Sen. Grassley introduced a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) late in the last congressional session. But, clearly Sen. Grassley, now in the majority, is being a leading voice in promoting JJDPA reauthorization, on a strong bi-partisan basis, in the new Congress.

Changes that could impact Wisconsin include:

– Phasing out the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception that now permits holding status offenders in secure custody in some cases – although Wisconsin is doing better, there remain a few counties that rely on the VCO exception to hold non-delinquent youth. That will go away!
– Adding stronger requirements related to efforts to reduce racial disparities – while some good projects and efforts have been made in Wisconsin, we have a long way to go and we are rapidly falling behind. In a state in which the disparities are the highest, we can ill afford to take a step back on addressing this issue.
– Adding protections and/or rules around holding youth under 18 in adult facilities. In light of the need to even get 17 year olds back into the juvenile system, this will push Wisconsin harder.

The “good news” is that these changes are “on the money” in terms of improving outcomes for youth and our communities. The “bad news”? Well, much of this may be rendered moot (always wanted to use that word!) if sufficient funding is not provided to OJJDP and the states to meet its compliance obligations as well as invest in system reform and capacity building. So, the right thing to do may become even harder to accomplish. What direction will we choose? Given the current climate and funding issues, will there be a chance Wisconsin will say “thanks, but no thanks” to federal juvenile justice money? Or, will we do the right thing regardless of the money involved?

Time will tell. by Jim Moeser