State Policy and Legislative News
Signed into law in March, Utah House Bill 138 allows certain young people who are tried and sentenced to prison as adults to remain in juvenile facilities until age 25. The state’s previous threshold for remaining in juvenile facilities was age 21.
Co-sponsored by Rep. Marsha Judkins (R) and Sen. Todd Weiler (R), the bill went into effect in May. According to Rep. Judkins, “[r]esearch indicates that recidivism rates for youth who are transferred to prison actually increase, including rates for violent reoffending, and it is more expensive to house these young offenders in prison.” The fiscal note associated with HB 138 reports that local governments could save an average of $30,300 annually for each young person who remains in the juvenile detention system rather than in local jails.
The Latest in Data: 50 State Study
A recent report by The Council of State Governments Justice Center sheds light on the challenges faced by juvenile and family court judges and the systems that impact young people more broadly. Findings of the 50-state study include:
- Fewer than 5% of states have background and experience requirements for juvenile court judges.
- In many states, there is an absence of standardized criteria or processes that guide case assignments and rotation lengths for judges.
- Few state rules or guidelines inform how juvenile court judges are selected, what qualifications should be required for judges and what resources related to training and support should be made available to judicial officers.
- Most states have not established tools, guides or bench cards to assist juvenile court judges in making research-informed decisions.
- Less than 20% of state court administrative offices routinely provide judges with data on delinquency cases.
- Most states do not require judges to obtain a minimum number of annual training hours on juvenile justice.
Moreover, this report finds that many judges attribute a lack of specialized juvenile court judges to the “emotional nature of juveniles cases” and the “burn-out rate.”
Task Force Takeaways: New Jersey
In 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy established the Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey. The task force was charged with providing recommendations to the legislative and executive branches on approaches for continued reform of the state’s juvenile justice system. Now, approximately two years later, a reportis available on the task force’s findings. Notably:
- The average age of a committed youth is 18.5, with individuals ranging in age between 16 and 25 years old.
- Many of the youth in commitment are charged as adults for violent offenses and are sentenced to more than five years in custody in a juvenile facility.
- Secure juvenile facilities have an adult corrections design, and youth placed in these environments typically have high recidivism rates.
- Greater investment in preventative, community-based programs would steer youth away from serious delinquency and lessen the need for out-of-home placement.
For young people who do require secure placement, the state is examining how to design new facilities that will meet the rehabilitative needs of those in residential care. Drawing upon their observations and findings, the task force proposes creating smaller replacement facilities that “promote healing, rehabilitation and the reintegration of committed youth into their communities, consistent with public safety.” Specific recommendations include geographic accessibility for families, staff trained in trauma-informed care, environments with warm colors and natural light and programs that meet the interests and needs of young people while simultaneously teaching usable skills.
State in Focus: Indiana
Indiana is the latest state to adopt a number of statewide juvenile justice reforms in 2022 with the enactment of House Bill 1359. Taking effect on July 1, the new law prohibits detaining an individual younger than 12 years old unless there is reason to believe the young person poses an imminent risk to the community. The bill also mandates the use of detention screening as well as risk-based assessment tools to determine the appropriate disposition for a juvenile suspected of delinquency.
With focuses on alternative justice strategies and reducing recidivism, the legislation creates grant programs to support diversion and community-based alternatives to incarceration as well as community re-entry and reintegration services. The state must also establish a data collection plan and an oversight committee which will submit annual reports to the governor, chief justice and legislative council and develop plans for implementing provisions of the bill.
Lawmakers collaborated with justice system stakeholders and the state’s bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force to help shape the new legislation. Task force co-chairs, Rep. Wendy McNamara (R) and Sen. Michael Crider (R) stated, “Data shows that every dollar spent on research-based programs and practices, such as juvenile diversion, instead of punitive-based practices like incarceration, can yield $11 dollars in savings. This means fewer kids end up cycling through the justice system again… Additionally, this bill will help ensure that dollars are being spent on services and interventions that work.”
Juvenile Justice Publications and Resources
See the latest research and publications on juvenile justice policy.
* Xavier McElrath-Bey has been a special guest at past NCSL meetings.
This newsletter was created with support from and developed in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project (PSPP).