New IBT story: Obama Administration Allegedly Not Protecting Incarcerated and Institionalized Children

From my new IBT story:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is failing to sanction states that house excessive numbers of teenagers and children in adult jails and prisons, placing them at greater risk for violent attacks, sexual assaults and suicide, two career Justice Department employees plan to testify Tuesday in front of a Senate panel.

Under a 1974 law known as the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the Justice Department is required to sharply curtail some federal aid to state governments when those states incarcerate too many juveniles and children in adult jails and prisons. The law also demands that the federal government withhold such funds from states that lock up large numbers of so-called status offenders — children and teens who have engaged in minor offenses such as truancy, curfew violations, drinking alcohol or running away from home.

The law was later amended to require the Justice Department to also cut grant money to states that fail to make fixes after the determination that their criminal justice systems hold “disproportionate” numbers of minority youths.

The two career Justice Department officials are expected to testify that the Obama administration is in violation of federal law by continuing to provide these funds to eight jurisdictions that do not meet one or more of those standards: Virginia, Illinois, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Idaho and Alabama, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Justice Department declined to respond to questions from International Business Times prior to the hearing. But sources say that a senior Justice Department official will adamantly deny the charges while testifying to counter the two whistleblowers from within the department.

The grants that are subject to cuts under the 1974 law provide funding for programs to improve the treatment of youth offenders, such as training for correctional officers and support services for young inmates. Under the logic of the law, withholding grant money is the federal government’s means of pressuring states to limit the number of youth offenders placed in jails and prisons intended for adults.

The claims that the Obama administration is potentially violating federal laws regarding the incarceration of young people are contained within the draft of an internal memo prepared for members and staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee and shared with IBTimes.

A senior DOJ official described as “ironic and depressing” the Obama administration’s failure to force states to limit the numbers of young people — minorities in particular — locked up with adults.

“I mean, we have the first African-American president in office, the first African-American attorney general and will soon have the first woman African-American attorney general,” the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, told IBTimes, on condition of anonymity. “The current head of the [Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention] is an African-American. And this is happening on our watch?”

The rest of the story can be found here.

–Murray Waas

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