2011 Juvenile Justice State Legislation

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2011 Juvenile Justice State LegislationState juvenile justice legislation in 2011 focused on four main areas: legal services and other due process protections during court proceedings, sentencing reform, prevention and diversion programs, and the expungement of records.

Areas of Focus

Two state legislatures enacted significant sentencing reform. Nevada lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting juveniles from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for offenses other than homicide. A recent enactment in Illinois requires judges, when committing offenders to state juvenile prison, to select the least restrictive confinement available and to consider the youth’s age, criminal background, mental health, and reasons why community-based services have not succeeded previously.  

Other states addressed ways to prevent young people and divert minor offenders from entering into the juvenile justice system altogether. Indiana now allows the juvenile court to establish a voluntary preventative program and appoint an early intervention advocate to children considered at-risk. Washington lawmakers created “Pay for Actual Student Success” to reward high schools financially for successful drop-out prevention and intervention programs. The Colorado General Assembly issued a declaration that since victims of human trafficking and prostitution are often teenagers and children, municipalities are authorized to develop diversion programs for people charged with prostitution-related offenses. Nebraska appropriated $100,000 to the Supreme Court Education Fund to help the juvenile justice system develop diversion programs to reduce any unnecessary involvement with the system.  

State laws in 2011 also focused on competency proceedings and the mental health needs of juvenile offenders. Idaho lawmakers passed legislation establishing standards for evaluating a juvenile’s competency to proceed, which include the same standards set out for adults, but adds factors the court can consider when applying them to juveniles. Maine passed a similar measure that defines “chronological immaturity,” “mental illness” and “mental retardation” for use in determining juvenile competency.  

Regarding the mental health needs of juveniles, Iowa now requires a proceeding to be suspended if the child is ordered into a residential facility or institution for treatment of a mental illness. Colorado established a family advocacy program in the juvenile justice mental health system that provides technical assistance and works with key stakeholders in the community to collaborate in providing services to young people with mental illnesses, alone or with other disorders.

Other juvenile justice legislation related to the sealing and expungement of juvenile records. A  new North Carolina law requires a young offender’s criminal record to be expunged in cases of non-violent felonies. Texas law now considers any records relating to children convicted of “fine-only” misdemeanors to be confidential and prohibits disclosure of records to the public. Washington state prohibits consumer reporting agencies from  disseminating personal information contained in juvenile records. The law also established a joint legislative task force to determine cost effective ways to restrict access to juvenile records.


Appendix - List of 2011 Laws by State

Sentencing Reform
Nevada AB 134, Illinois HB 83

Competency and Mental Health.
Idaho HB 140, Maine HB 1039, Iowa SB 327, Colorado HB  1193

Prevention and Diversion
Indiana HB 1107, Washington HB 1599, Colorado SB 85 Nebraska LB 463,

Sealing/Expungement of Records
North Carolina SB 397, Texas HB 961, Washington HB 1793.