Cárdenas Introduces Package of Juvenile Justice Bills
This week, Congressman Tony Cárdenas introduced a package of legislation aimed at addressing issues within our juvenile justice system. This package included bills that were both bicameral and bipartisan.
“Our children are our future,” said Rep. Cárdenas. “We owe them every possible opportunity, and that starts with a system that works for them, not against them. Improving juvenile justice and youth violence can’t happen overnight. It requires change across our society, from our courts to our classrooms. This legislation attacks these issues head-on, and I urge my colleagues to move these bills forward.”
Congressman Cárdenas introduced five bills to reform our juvenile justice system, covering issues ranging from healthcare to sentencing regulations to the treatment of children within detention centers.
The bicameral, bipartisan At-Risk Youth Medicaid Prevention Act (H.R. 1925), co-led by Republican Representative Morgan Griffith and Senators Chris Murphy and Cory Booker, seeks to ensure that children already enrolled in Medicaid receive coverage as soon as they are released from custody. In too many states, children who are covered by Medicaid and later incarcerated can end up with their enrollment permanently terminated by the state as a result, even if they are detained for just one day.
The bicameral, bipartisan Prohibiting the Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act (H.R. 1885), led by Senators Bob Casey and Rand Paul in the Senate, closes a loophole that currently allows some judges to detain a child because of a status offense, or an offense that would not be a crime if committed by an adult – such as truancy, curfew, or running away from home.
The Community-Based Gang Intervention Act (H.R. 1924) is a continuation of landmark legislation that Congressman Cárdenas authored in the California State Assembly with then-assemblyman Adam Schiff, that to this day provides millions of dollars across California for evidence-based gang prevention and intervention efforts. This bill would allow the DOJ to provide funding for organizations that utilize the proven community-based gang intervention model to prevent and decrease youth gang violence.
The Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Act (H.R. 1926) would ban the use of solitary confinement for children in federal prisons. Children are particularly vulnerable to the potential harms caused by solitary confinement because they are developmentally at such a formative stage in their lives. Because of the efforts of Congressman Cárdenas and other advocates, in 2016 President Obama banned the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Los Angeles County banned the practice as well in all county facilities in May 2016, and in September 2016 California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to severely restrict the practice.
The Congressman also introduced a resolution expressing the need to eliminate life without parole for children (H.Res. 250). The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison. Research has proven time and time again that children’s brains are not fully developed and as a result children are less capable than adults to consider impacts or control their impulses, and they are uniquely capable of rehabilitation. The Supreme Court has recognized that children and adults must be treated differently in the criminal justice system, and thanks to the work of Congressman Cárdenas and advocates, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is considering amending the federal sentencing guidelines to reflect this. Furthermore, 18 states and DC have already eliminated life without parole sentences for children. This resolution would encourage the remaining states to do the same.
Finally, this week Congressman Cárdenas sent a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science that was signed by 79 Members of Congress expressing the need to invest in evidence-based juvenile justice programs at the state and local level in order to keep our children and communities safe and to save billions of taxpayer dollars.