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Juvenile Justice Update | March 2023

March 20, 2023

The Juvenile Justice Update is an NCSL digital newsletter for state legislators, legislative staff and others interested in juvenile justice policy. This newsletter provides quarterly updates on state interests, actions and resources and provides links to the latest research. 

March 2023 

On the Federal Level: Medicaid and Justice-Involved Youth 

President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (H.R. 2617) into law on Dec. 29, 2022. The new, bipartisan legislation will require state Medicaid programs to provide certain services to youth 30 days before the young person’s release from a public institution.  

Included in these requirements are mental health screenings, diagnostic services, case management as well as referrals to additional community-based services. The act will also give states the ability to provide Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage to justice-involved youth in public institutions who are awaiting disposition of their charges. Currently, the Medicaid inmate exclusion policy typically prohibits states from using federal funds to provide medical services to justice-involved individuals housed in public institutions.  

The new provisions will take effect Jan. 1, 2025. To learn more, read NCSL’s legislative summary on the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 and Connecting Recently Released Prisoners to Health Care—How to Leverage Medicaid.  

The Latest in Data 

Using data gathered through 2019, a recent report released by the National Center for Juvenile Justice sheds light on youth victimization, offenses committed by youth and demographics of justice-involved youth.  

Key findings include: 

  • Serious violent crimes committed by young people between the ages of 12 and 17, peaked in 1993 and steadily declined to the lowest reported level in 2019. In 2019, 9% of all serious violent victimizations were committed by youth between the ages of 12 and 17.   

  • Although young females account for a small percentage (< 10%) of the total number of homicides committed by juveniles, between 2013 and 2019, homicides committed by young females increased by 116% compared to a 35% increase for young males.  

  • Law enforcement arrested 696,620 individuals under the age of 18 in 2019. Of these arrests, young females account for 31%; 48% of young people arrested were between the ages of 16 and 17; and 63% of arrested youth were white. 

  • Half of all juvenile arrests in 2019 involved larceny-theft, simple assault, drug abuse violations, and/or disorderly conduct offenses.   

  • In 2019, 49% of arrested youth were referred to juvenile court.  

  • Despite representing 15% of the juvenile population, Black youth comprised 35% of the delinquency caseload in 2019.   

  • For 65% of youth who were adjudicated delinquent in 2019, probation was the most severe sanction ordered by the juvenile court.  

State in Focus: Illinois 

With the enactment of HB 1064, Illinois is the most recent state to abolish life without parole for young people convicted of  first degree murder. Under the new law, a young person serving a life sentence for a crime committed when he/she was younger than 21 will be eligible for parole after 40 years.  

“Even when a crime is particularly severe, it should be recognized that a legal minor with their whole life still ahead has the potential to be reformed. That’s why granting eligibility for a parole hearing after 40 years for those who are sentenced to life imprisonment before the age of 21 is the right thing to do. I recognize that victims and their families may have concerns, and I don’t blame them. However, in a nation like ours, prison should be a place where people have the opportunity to transform themselves and become better people and productive members of society. I believe that giving everyone a chance at redemption is a moral duty,” stated bill sponsor, Rep. Rita Mayfield (D).  

Commenting on the bill, Sen. Donald DeWitte (R) said, “I consider myself a law-and-order Republican, but I also believe in rehabilitation. I believe there are some people who make extremely poor decisions in the very early portions of their lives who deserve consideration once they have met benchmarks and shown they are prepared to become contributing citizens after they have served their debt to society. For these people, we need to offer them hope and let them know we recognize that people can redeem themselves.”  

The bipartisan legislation applies to individuals sentenced on or after June 1, 2019. Nationally, 25 states and the District of Columbia prohibit juvenile life without parole.   

On the Fiscal Front: Fines, Fees & Recidivism  

A new study examining the effect of monetary sanctions imposed on justice-involved youth in Florida found that a young person’s inability to pay fines, fees and other court costs often led to deeper involvement in the juvenile justice system.   

Researchers observed that young people ordered to pay legal financial obligations had higher rates of recidivism compared to youth who were adjudicated delinquent but did not receive monetary sanctions. Of the youth surveyed, 13% stated they would have to engage in criminal activity to get the money necessary to pay court-ordered fines and fees. Young males were assessed on average $636.60 in monetary sanctions compared to $414 for females. The average legal financial obligation was $709.50 for Black youth, $633.33 for Hispanic youth and $426.50 for white youth.   

The effect of monetary sanctions was also shown to impact a young person’s family. A third  of families stated that paying court-ordered fines and fees would inhibit their ability to pay other bills and 28.9% reported they would have to borrow money to fulfill the court’s order. In 2021, Florida state courts recovered only 13% of the $3.3 million in legal financial obligations assessed against young people. 

Did you know? The first juvenile court was established in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois.  

Links to external websites and reports are for information purposes only and do not indicate NCSL’s endorsement of the content. 

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. 


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