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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia

SUPPORTING YOUTH OPPORTUNITY AND PREVENTING DELINQUENCY ACT OF 2016

September 20, 2016
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank Chairman Kline, Subcommittee Chair ROKITA, and the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Curbelo) for their work, and also, on our side, Representatives DAVIS of California, ADAMS, and WILSON of Florida for their work on this legislation.

   Mr. Speaker, juvenile courts were established by States over 100 years ago on the emerging legal theory that children should not be held fully responsible for their actions, a theory proven by scientific research into impulse control and brain development. The capacity to rehabilitate children became the focus of the system rather than punishment of offenders. Congress first articulated national standards of juvenile justice in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.

   Long overdue for reauthorization, H.R. 5963 creates Federal guardrails that protect children in the juvenile justice system within each State. In the 14 years since Congress last reauthorized the program, there have been advancements in research and expansion of evidence informing improved methods to prevent inappropriate youth incarceration and to reduce delinquency.

   The bill we consider today includes necessary improvements in Federal policy firmly grounded in facts that demonstrate that public investments in services to our youth, particularly trauma-informed care and alternatives to incarceration, will produce positive results for at-risk youth. Those results, in turn, will lead to reduced crime and long-term cost savings.

   H.R. 5963 requires, for the first time, that State juvenile justice plans take into account the latest scientific research on adolescent development and behavior, recognizing the importance of prevention and early intervention in juvenile crime policy. We shouldn't have to legislate use of scientific research, but if we don't, we will end up codifying and funding slogans and sound bites that have dictated our Nation's approach to crime policy over the years. These slogans and sound bites often do nothing to decrease crime, and, in fact, when studied, some slogans have been shown to actually increase the crime rate.

   H.R. 5963 encourages States to consider promising practices when developing State plans, such as programming to ensure youth access to public defenders in juvenile court, the use of problem-solving courts like drug courts as an alternative to conviction and confinement, efforts to inform and aid juveniles in the process of sealing and expunging juvenile records, and programming focused on the needs of girls in or at risk of entering the system.

   Finally, Mr. Speaker, the bill retools the Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grant Program, which is now entitled Youth Promise Incentive Grants for Local Delinquency Prevention Program, to support communities in the planning and implementing of comprehensive evidence-based prevention and intervention programs specifically designed to reduce juvenile delinquency and gang involvement.

   Grant recipients will be required to analyze the unmet delinquency prevention needs of youth in the community, then develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to address those unmet needs with an emphasis on program coordination. Research has shown that a communitywide, coordinated approach to delinquency prevention utilizing a continuum of services can actually save the community money and improve efficiencies.

   I would like to thank my colleagues for working with me on the Title V provisions, which are modeled after legislation that I have been working on for nearly 10 years--the Youth PROMISE Act. I am confident that if enacted, these incentive grants will vastly improve the lives of--and long-term economic opportunity for--our Nation's at-risk youth.

   Mr. Speaker, the collaborative work of this committee gives me hope that we can get the full JJDPA reauthorization over the finish line this year. The Senate Judiciary Committee has marked up and passed their version of the bill. I know Senators GRASSLEY and WHITEHOUSEare working hard to get their bill out of the Senate. I am optimistic that support for the bill, which builds on knowledge and experience of the past 14 years, will spur further action so that the bill can make its way to the President's desk for signature.