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Congress Set to Decide if Children Can Be Locked Up for Skipping School

Legislation to overhaul juvenile-justice systems, including how they handle education, easily passed the Senate on Tuesday.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act, which passed the chamber by a voice vote, would for the most part prevent juveniles from being incarcerated for "status offenses" such as skipping school in states getting federal formula grants. (The exception would be if the child is subject to a valid court order.) The bill also puts a greater emphasis on screening and treatment for those with mental health issues, retaining educational records of juveniles in detention centers, and ensuring that students in juvenile-justice centers get appropriate credit for academic work while they are in the juvenile-justice system.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., were the two primary authors of the Senate bill—Grassley is head of the Senate judiciary committee. Senators will now hold a conference with House lawmakers, who passed their own changes to the nation's juvenile-justice law earlier this year, to hammer out final legislation.

"The bill includes important new accountability requirements that safeguard taxpayer dollars and prevent states from being rewarded when failing to provide the minimum standard of protections for minors," Grassley said in a statement after the bill passed. And in his own statement, Whitehouse said the legislation "helps kids stay on track at school."

The House legislation, written by Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., also contains elements impacting the education of young people in the justice system. That bill passed the House in May. Both pieces of legislation address federal juvenile-justice law, which originally passed in 1974 and was last reauthorized in 2002.

The Coalition for Juvenile Justice noted that while the Senate bill would allow young people to be put into the juvenile-justice system for skipping school in certain circumstances, the House bill would eventually disallow the practice entirely. 

Click here to read the Senate legislation. And read a fact sheet about the Senate juvenile-justice bill below:

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