Senate Judiciary Approves Criminal Justice Bill with Juvenile Provisions

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WASHINGTON — A criminal justice reform bill with several provisions to help juveniles in prison and ease re-entry into the community cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would affect federal resentencing, record expungement and solitary confinement policies for juveniles as part of a broader package of reforms for adults.

A bipartisan group of senators earlier this month introduced the legislation, which has won broad support from both conservative and liberal groups. The Judiciary Committee approved the bill with some technical changes by a vote of 15-5.

During the committee hearing, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, also said he would work on an amendment to limit courtroom shackling of juveniles as the bill makes its way to the Senate floor.

Coons said after the markup that shackling is too broadly used in ways that harm juveniles psychologically and affect their outcomes in court.

“When used inappropriately, shackling has significant negative impacts,” he said.

As of June, 21 states had a law, court rule, court opinion or statewide policy that limits the shackling of juveniles in the courtroom at some stage of court proceedings. The other 29 had no written guidance, nor did the federal government, according to the Campaign Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shackling.

The bill also would limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prison. In addition, it would permit nonviolent offenders who are tried as juveniles in federal court to seek to seal or expunge their records in some circumstances.

Another provision of the bill would allow juveniles convicted as adults in the federal system to seek resentencing before a judge after they have served 20 years of their sentence. The provision would apply retroactively to all juveniles charged as adults, including those given life sentences.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers have introduced legislation that is similar to the Senate bill, although it does not include the provisions for juveniles. House Judiciary Committee leaders have said they intended to introduce additional legislation that could deal with juvenile reforms.

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