WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate effort to overhaul the treatment of juveniles in the justice system to avoid unnecessary detentions and keep them out of adult jails has hit a snag in the form of freshman Republican Tom Cotton.
Cotton, who has wielded sharp elbows in just more than a year in the Senate, opposes a move to block states that receive federal juvenile justice grants from putting young offenders in lockup for minor offenses like alcohol possession or truancy. The Arkansas Republican said judges should at least have that option when a juvenile "flagrantly violates" a judge's order.
The Senate had been poised Thursday to unanimously adopt a long-stalled rewrite of federal juvenile justice programs, but supporters including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa were vexed by Cotton's objection.
Grassley said juvenile judges had originally asked for the exceptions Cotton is himself seeking to permit detention of youth offenders in violation of a valid court order but have now changed their minds.
"Remember that we are talking about juveniles who have committed offenses that would not be crimes if committed by adults," Grassley said. "Curfew violations. Truancy. Underage tobacco use."
Cotton said that Arkansas has opted to keep confinement in such circumstances as a "last-resort option" and that Congress should not second-guess the Arkansas legislature.
The measure advanced through the Judiciary panel with unanimous support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Cotton said he will try to work with Grassley and others to eventually pass the bill.