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Federal Update - July 2022

July 29, 2022
Melissa C. Goemann

Senators Murray and Wyden Investigate Four Major Companies Operating Youth Residential Treatment Facilities 

On July 22nd, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, sent letters to Acadia Health Services, Deveraux Advanced Behavioral Health, Universal Health Services, and Vivant Behavioral Healthcare, four of the biggest companies operating youth residential treatment facilities (RTFs), demanding information on their practices, policies, and treatment of youth following reports of harmful conditions in their facilities. The RTFs house children from youth justice and foster care systems as well as children with special needs and mental health challenges. One of the letters was sent to Jay Ripley, Vivant’s CEO, and a co-founder of Sequel Youth & Family Services, a company whose dangerous practices NJJN has called attention to since Cornelius Frederick was killed by staff who restrained him at a Sequel facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan. 

In their letters, the Senators expressed concerns regarding” numerous stories of exploitation, mistreatment and maltreatment, abuse and neglect, and fatalities in these facilities,” and also referenced the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion. They requested that the companies provide answers to numerous questions, including policies on restraining children or placing them in seclusion, as well as the number of maltreatment and abuse incidents over the past five years. The companies must respond no later than August 4, 2022. 

Bill Introduced to Prohibit Detaining Youth for Status Offenses 

On June 8th, Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-CA-29) introduced the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act of 2022 (H.R. 7976) in the House and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced it in the Senate (S. 4632). Thousands of young people are still locked up each year for “status offenses,” acts like truancy and running away, that would not be considered a crime if committed by an adult. A loophole in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act (JJDPA), the “valid court order” (VCO) exception facilitates this type of detention. This bill would phase out and then prohibit the use of the VCO exception so that states could not detain youth for status offenses and would, instead, use responses that better support young people. 

Click here for more information about the bill.  

You can take action to thank Rep. Cárdenas and Sen. Casey by tweeting the following: 

  • Thank you @RepCardenas for your leadership supporting young people and introducing the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act of 2022. This is a critical step to ensure young people aren’t incarcerated simply for being youth, and can access needed supports. 

  • Thank you @SenBobCasey for taking action to protect our young people and introducing the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act of 2022. This is a critical step to ensure young people aren’t incarcerated simply for being youth, and receive the support they need. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Releases Appropriations Bills 

On July 28th, the Senate Appropriations Committee released twelve Senate appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2023. Below are the youth justice related numbers: 

  • $90 million for Title II (currently $70 m)

  • $110 for mentoring (currently $102 m) 

  • $78.5 for Title V including, $5 million to prevent trafficking of girls; $20 million for tribal youth; $500,000  for an Internet site providing information and resources on children of incarcerated parents;  $6,500,000 for competitive grants focusing on girls in the juvenile justice system; $16,000,000 for an initiative relating to youth affected by opioids, stimulants, and substance use disorder; $15,000,000  for an initiative relating to children exposed to violence; and $5,000,000 for grants to protect vulnerable and at-risk youth 

  • $50 million for Victims of Child Abuse Act 

  • $110 million for missing and exploited children,  

  • $5 million for child abuse training programs 

  • $2.5 million for indigent defense 

  • $25 million for alternatives to youth incarceration 

OJJDP Priority Areas 

OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan recently held listening sessions with folks from across the country to get input on implementing her three priority areas:  

  • Treating children as children 

  • Serving young people in their communities 

  • Opening up opportunities for system-involved youth 

If you missed these listening sessions, it’s not too late! You can still provide your input though this brief form. Additionally, more listening sessions will be scheduled shortly for youth and families who have been impacted by the carceral system. 

National Sign-on Letters and Comments 

Please see below for a list of the national letters that NJJN has signed since our last newsletter and see the federal policy page of our website for a complete list: 

  • 6/28/22 - Transition-Aged Youth Coalition sign-on letter urging Congress to address the mental health needs of children and youth impacted by the child welfare system.  

  • 7/19/22 - Sign-on letter from the Center for Disability Rights in opposition to The ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services Act (ACCESS) (H.R. 77), which would create barriers and obstacles for people with disabilities to enforce their right under Title III of the ADA. 

  • 7/20/22 - Signed onto letter from Lambda Legal to OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan to ensure that the equitable, safe, and affirming treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (“LGBTQ+) youth in secure and nonsecure carceral and institutional placements and those receiving services through Office of Justice Programs (“OJP”)/Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (“OJJDP”) funded programs is a top priority during her tenure at OJJDP and that the agency takes concrete steps towards achieving those goals.

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