Juvenile Justice Quarterly
This article appeared in Juvenile Justice Quarterly, Issue 5, March 2013 (Full newsletter in pdf)
State Policy and Legislative News
Wyoming passes a juvenile life without parole law, Missouri Senate passes Jonathan’s Law, Georgia reform bill moving through the General Assembly; and Florida releases executive budget.
On Feb. 14, 2013, the Wyoming legislature passed HB 23 ending sentences of life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders. The law responds to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, which ruled that imposing mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole on juveniles is unconstitutional. Under the new Wyoming law, which takes effect on July 1, 2013, youth who are convicted of first degree murder will be eligible for parole after 25 years or can have their sentences commuted to a different term. Prior to the law’s passage, juveniles in Wyoming convicted of murder could be given sentences of life with or without parole. The law will not apply retroactively to individuals already serving juvenile life without parole sentences, according to Deputy Attorney General Dave Delicath.
In Missouri, the Senate passed SB 36, also known as “Jonathan’s Law.” Currently in Missouri, the dual jurisdiction program allows youth who are certified as adults to remain in the custody of the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to receive rehabilitation services and potentially avoid a further adult sentence. Jonathan’s law extends the timeframe by six months in which youth are eligible for the program. The bill also states that judges should consider the dual jurisdiction program when sentencing juveniles. Jonathan's Law is in remembrance of Jonathan McClard, who committed suicide in an adult facility at the age of 17, fearing he would be sentenced to a long prison term with adults. Senate Bill 36 was sent to the House on March 7, 2013.
For the last five years, Georgia policymakers have been considering reforms to their juvenile justice system. During the 2012 session, HB 641 was approved by the House but held so that its fiscal impact could be studied. The review was conducted last fall by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians and their findings were published in their December 2012 report. According to the report, the changes are projected to decrease the average daily secure detention population of juvenile facilities from 1,908 to 1,269 youths. Every young person housed in these facilities costs Georgians $90,000 per year. Over the next five years, it is projected that these and related measures will save $88 million.
Combining past bills and the Council’s recommendations, this year HB 242 has passed the House and the Senate and has been sent to the Governor. Provisions of the bill include: prohibiting status offenders and misdemeanants to residential commitments, using risk and needs assessments for young offenders to identify which detention possibilities might be the best; and using performance-based contracting with service providers.
Florida Governor Rick Scott recently released his executive budget for 2013-2014, entitled “Florida Families First,” which includes provisions that promote safety and reform in juvenile justice. The budget includes $513.6 million the Department of Juvenile Justice, to help the agency focus on prevention, diversion, and alternatives to secure detention. Highlights of the budget include investing $1.5 million in services to prevent and divert youth from entering the juvenile justice system. The budget also includes funds to address some of the mental health needs of youth and to provide educational services specifically for the unique needs of girls in the juvenile justice system. Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters says “This is a major step toward making sure we deliver the right service to the right youth at the right time. Not only are we helping at-risk youth get back on track, we are protecting Florida’s communities and saving money.”