On the Fiscal Front: DOJ to Award $136 Million to Support Juvenile Justice
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Nov. 1, 2022 it will be awarding $136 million to “reform state and local juvenile justice systems, provide youth violence prevention and intervention services, support mentoring programs and reentry services for young people and their families, meet the needs of vulnerable youth and study outcomes for justice-involved youth.”
Administered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the grants are also aimed at meeting the needs of justice-involved youth and young people who are at risk of coming into contact with the justice system. The DOJ has additionally recognized the need for fiscal support for juvenile indigent defense programs, treatment for youth exiting foster care as well as services for girls, Alaska Native youth, LGBTQI+ and Two-Spirit youth in the justice system.
Notably, the press release states, “A recent analysis of 2020 data from OJJDP and NIJ revealed that youth arrests for violent crime were down 78% from their peak in 1994. It found that people aged 17 and younger accounted for just 7% of all arrests for violent crime.” According to OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan, “The road to a more humane and effective juvenile justice system begins with a collective commitment to keeping young people out of the system altogether, by intervening early with youth who are vulnerable to system involvement and then working to guarantee that the system operates fairly and is supportive of their growth and development. These investments deliver on a pledge to put youth first and to make contact with the system rare, fair and beneficial for those it is intended to serve.
From the Courts
The Tennessee Supreme Court recently ruled that the state’s mandatory 51-year minimum sentence for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker, Booker was found guilty of first-degree felony murder and especially aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison in which he would not be eligible for parole until after 51 years served; a 20-year sentence was imposed for the aggravated robbery. Booker was 16 when he committed the crimes.
After the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences, the state’s Supreme Court granted review of the case. In the majority opinion, Justice Sharon G. Lee writes, “[Booker’s] sentence does not square with the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Eighth Amendment […] In remedying this constitutional violation, we exercise judicial restraint. We need not create a new sentencing scheme or resentence Mr. Booker—his life sentence stands. Rather, we follow the policy embodied in the federal Constitution as explained in Montgomery v. Louisiana [citation omitted] and grant Mr. Booker an individualized parole hearing where his age and other circumstances will be properly considered.” Booker must serve between 25 and 36 years in prison before he will be eligible for parole.
Tennessee joins a growing number of states that have either statutorily or through court ruling, revised their sentencing structures for serious offenses committed by juveniles. Supreme courts in California, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Wyoming have held that aspects of their state law violated Miller v. Alabama—the landmark United States Supreme Court decision that juvenile life sentences without parole are unconstitutional.
Click here to read the separate concurring opinion and here for the dissenting opinion in State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker.
Research & Response: AMA Endorses Minimum Age for Juvenile Justice Jurisdiction
In November 2022, the American Medical Association (AMA) endorsed setting the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction at 14 and cited data and research published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as well as the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.
“Research shows that people who experience their first incarceration as a young child have worse health outcomes as adults compared with those first incarcerated as adolescents. We believe setting a minimum age for when a young person enters the juvenile justice system will lessen the harmful effects that early justice involvement can have on children and their families over the course of their lives recognizing that children and adolescents need developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed care and services,” said AMA Trustee Drayton Charles Harvey.
There is substantial variation in the states as to the lowest threshold age in which a young person can fall under the purview of the juvenile court. In roughly half of the states, there is no specified minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction. Other states, however, have codified a minimum threshold age in statute with ages ranging from 6 to 13.
The 2021 legislative session saw momentum on this issue with seven states—Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York and North Carolina— making statutory changes increasing the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction. Delaware and New Hampshire for example, set the lowest age in which a young person can be arrested at 13. In states that have set a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction, the law typically allows for exceptions when the young person is suspected of having committed a violent or sex offense.
To learn more about age limits in the juvenile justice system see NCSL’s Juvenile Justice 2021 Year-End Report, Juvenile Age of Jurisdiction and Transfer to Adult Court Laws and Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy Update.
The Latest in Data: Juvenile Residential Facilities
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s statistical briefing, “Highlights from the 2020 Juvenile Residential Facility Census,” demonstrates a 77% decline in out-of-home placement for youths between the years 2000 and 2020. Additional data shows:
The proportion of facilities operating over capacity has declined over the past two decades. As of 2020, 85% of facilities were operating under capacity while 1% of facilities were operating over capacity.
From 2000 to 2020, the proportion of locally operated juvenile residential facilities has increased from 22% to 39%.
In 2000, 51% of youth were placed in large-sized facilities and 36% were placed in medium-sized facilities. However, in 2020, only 19% of youth were placed in large-sized facilities and 51% were placed in medium-sized facilities.*
While the majority of surveyed facilities screen all or some youth for suicide risk, educational needs, substance abuse and mental health needs within the first week of admission, the number of facilities conducting these assessments has increased from 2000 to 2020. For example, in 2000, 69% of respondents screened for suicide risk within the first week of admission—in 2020, 90% of respondents conducted a suicide risk assessment within the same timeframe.
*According to the briefing, a large-sized facility is defined as having greater than 100 residents and a medium-sized facility is defined as having 21-100 residents.
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Support for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.