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Rokita Statement: Hearing on "Providing Vulnerable Youth the Hope of a Brighter Future Through Juvenile Justice Reform"


Of course, juvenile justice reform isn’t just a concern for those of us here today. It’s something that has long been a national priority. Through their juvenile justice systems, state and local leaders are working to promote communities that are safe. Communities that help children learn and grow into productive members of society. Communities that provide opportunities for all children — regardless of their background or past mistakes — to pursue their dreams and achieve their goals.

For decades, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has coordinated federal resources to help improve those state juvenile justice systems. The law primarily focuses on education and rehabilitation to support efforts keeping at-risk youth out of the system, as well as efforts providing juvenile offenders already in the system the second chance they need to move forward with their lives in positive ways.

Today, more than one million young men and women across the country are involved in the juvenile justice system. That includes children as young as ten all the way to those on the cusp of adulthood. That’s a noteworthy number on its own, but it doesn’t even include the countless others who are at risk of becoming involved in the system because of circumstances such as poverty, homelessness, or difficulties at home.

That statistic provides an idea of the size and scope of the juvenile justice system, but it’s even more important to understand what being a part of the juvenile justice system actually means for each of those two million kids. In many cases, it means being at a disadvantage, not fully understanding what potential the future holds, and not realizing that opportunities exist to turn things around.

In fact, youth who have been incarcerated are 26 percent less likely to graduate from high school than their peers and 26 percent more likely to engage in other unlawful activity and return to jail as adults.

We, as a society, have to help children avoid becoming one of those statistics, and we can accomplish that by helping some stay out of the system all together and by helping others come out of the system with the opportunities and the motivation they need to chart a better course for themselves. Given the social and economic challenges facing our country, that’s no small feat. However — through a collaborative effort among parents, teachers, and local community members — it can be done.

That’s why we are here today — to discuss our role in that collaborative effort and to begin considering what steps Congress can take to help state and local leaders better serve vulnerable youth in their communities.

Last year, we advanced a number of bipartisan reforms to provide state and local leaders the flexibility they need to meet the needs of youth in their cities and towns, focus on proven strategies, and improve accountability and oversight both to help kids succeed and protect taxpayers. Ultimately, these reforms would set kids up for long-term success, helping them gain the skills they need to become productive adults and promoting opportunities for them to achieve success throughout their lives. I’m certain those commonsense reforms will help guide the work ahead as we renew our effort to improve the juvenile justice system.

As a father, I want my children to have every opportunity they need to succeed in life, and I work very hard to ensure they do. I also work hard to ensure they understand it’s their responsibility to seize those opportunities. Unfortunately, not all children are in the same position, and those are the kids we are here for today. I look forward to continuing our work to provide them the hope of a brighter future.