Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on “Juvenile Justice Reform in the Modern Era.”
Chairman Goodlatte: Throughout history, societies have struggled to establish appropriate ways to deal with juvenile offenders. Punitive measures for juvenile offenders and provision of care for juvenile delinquents is discussed in the Code of Hammurabi, the Talmud, and Rome’s Twelve Tables. Today we recognize that societies must aim for juvenile justice systems that protect public safety, hold justice-involved youth appropriately accountable, and provide treatment and rehabilitative services tailored to the needs of youth and their families.
We can all agree that juvenile offenders must be treated differently than adult offenders. Congress recognized this fact in 1974, when it passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act. This legislation and its progeny have established core requirements for states in building their juvenile justice systems. It induces states to deinstitutionalize status offenders, prevent youths from being detained with adult offenders, and address disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system.
There are very few juveniles in the federal system – in fact, there are fewer than 30. Most are there because they have been charged as adults in Washington, D.C., or on tribal lands. According to the Department of Justice, these juveniles tend to be older, generally between 17 and 20 years of age, are typically sentenced for sex-related offenses, and have typically committed violent offenses and have a history of responding to interventions and preventive measures in the community unfavorably. They are sentenced by the federal courts to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a last resort.
Conversely, at the state level, on any given day there are around 50,000 juveniles in residential facilities. Juveniles 12 years old or younger comprise 1 percent of the detained juvenile population, while 17-year-old juveniles comprise about a third of the juvenile population. Due to the fact nearly all juveniles in the criminal justice system are state-level offenders, federalism plays an important role in improving juvenile justice. It has allowed states to try out various initiatives and see what is effective and ineffective.
Indeed, I’m glad to see states exploring ways to reduce recidivism and improve youth outcomes by using evidence-based and evidence-informed programs, practices, and policies. I’m pleased to welcome Mr. Vignati, from Georgia, and Mr. McDonald, from Indiana, to today’s hearing. Georgia and Indiana are at the forefront of juvenile justice reform, and have implemented numerous programs to help reduce recidivism and rehabilitate youths. I’m particularly impressed by their commitment to using risk-assessment instruments in lowering the number of juveniles in residential facilities, and their efforts to assure all juveniles in secure facilities have access to education through the school districts where the facility is located. I look forward to hearing more about these initiatives and others that have been successful. Even though the state systems and the federal systems are distinct, I have always maintained that the states, as “laboratories of democracy,” can show the national government what works and what does not – and, more importantly, that reforms can be accomplished without endangering public safety.
As you know, in the 114th Congress this Committee led the way in the formulation of criminal justice reform legislation. We plan to continue that effort in this Congress.
I thank all of you for being here today, and look forward to hearing all of your perspectives on these important issues.