State juvenile justice legislation in 2013 focused on changing waiver and transfer laws, raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, sentencing reforms, community based alternatives to incarceration and the importance of mental health evaluations.
Transfer, Waiver and Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction
Nevada amended criteria for transferring youth to adult court so that only juveniles who are 16 years old, have committed a specified felony and have previously been convicted of a felony, may be transferred to adult court. Missouri also changed its transfer law in 2013. Previously, under Missouri law, youth who were once transferred to adult court could never return to juvenile court for subsequent offenses, regardless of how minor the offense was. Missouri changed this “once an adult, always an adult” provision to provide that a young person can now return to juvenile court if he/she was found not guilty in adult court. The law also requires youths aged 17 years and 6 months to be considered for dual jurisdiction. In Missouri, dual jurisdiction allows for a youth to receive a suspended adult sentence and be placed under the care of the department of youth services, in a juvenile detention facility.
Two states raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in 2013. Illinois passed a law which raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 for all offenses. Previously, Illinois had passed legislation that raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for youth who committed misdemeanor offenses only. In September 2013, Massachusetts raised the age at which a youth can be tried as an adult from 17 to 18 years years old. Both the Massachusetts House and Senate passed the bill unanimously.
Many states enacted juvenile sentencing reforms in 2013, often in response to the recent United States Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, which prohibits mandatory juvenile life without parole sentencing. Louisiana enacted legislation requiring a hearing prior to sentencing for any juvenile offender convicted of first or second degree murder. At the hearing, the prosecution and defense will introduce aggravating or mitigating evidence that is relevant, including the offender’s criminal history, family support system and social history. South Dakota enacted a similar measure, requiring a pre-sentence hearing for a juvenile who has been convicted as an adult for a Class A or B felony. At the hearing the defense will have an opportunity to present mitigating factors.
At least four states enacted legislation generally related to juvenile parole. Wyoming enacted a measure that requires youth who are sentenced to life for first degree murder to be eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison. The governor also has the option of commuting a youth’s life sentence to a term of years. The California Legislature created a revised parole review process for some prisoners who were transferred to adult court despite being under age 18 when they committed the crime. The law provides that eligible inmates can have their cases reviewed for possible release as early as 15 years into their prison sentence. This law will affect over 6,800 California inmates who were under age 18 when they committed the crime but were prosecuted in the adult system. Delaware law now states that an offender, who was under age eighteen at the time the crime was committed, and sentenced to a term of more than twenty years, will be eligible to petition the court for sentence modification after the offender has served 20 years of the sentence. If the offender committed first degree murder while under age 18, the offender would be eligible to petition the court after 30 years served. Indiana passed a blended sentencing law that allows judges to consider alternative sentencing and placement of juveniles under age 18 who were convicted of an adult crime. With this law, a judge in Indiana can now send a youth convicted as an adult into a juvenile correctional facility for supervision and rehabilitative treatment until the youth turns 18. Once the young offender turns 18, the sentencing court must conduct a hearing to decide whether to keep the offender in a juvenile facility, send the offender to an adult facility, or to place the young offender in home detention or probation.
Community Based Alternatives
The Nebraska Legislature passed a new law providing $14.5 million over the next two years for juvenile justice reform. The legislation expands community based alternatives to incarceration. The law also transfers the supervision of juvenile offenders in the community from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Office of Probation Administration, which is under the Nebraska Supreme Court. In 2013, Georgia streamlined the state’s juvenile code and passed comprehensive legislation that will improve the state’s juvenile justice system by reducing youth recidivism rates and cutting costs to taxpayers. It supports programs that focus on early intervention and effective alternatives to automatic detention. The measure is expected to save the state $85 million through 2018 and avoid the opening of two additional juvenile residential facilities.
Arkansas enacted legislation requiring alleged sex offenders under the age of 18 to be referred to mental health services and evaluation. In Washington, the legislature passed a new law that included the phrase “the large number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system with mental health challenges is of significant concern. Access to effective treatment is critical to the successful treatment of youth in the early stages of their contact with the juvenile justice system.” The law authorizes law enforcement officers to take a juvenile to an evaluation and treatment facility or alternative location when a juvenile has committed a non-serious offense and the officer believes the juvenile suffers from a mental disorder. The law also permits a judge to require a juvenile to undergo a mental health or substance abuse evaluation and impose treatment as a condition of supervision.
Appendix: List of 2013 Laws by State
- Transfer/Waiver and Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction | Nevada AB 202, Missouri SB 260, Illinois HB 2404, Massachusetts HB 1432.
- Sentencing Reforms | Louisiana HB 152, South Dakota SB39, Wyoming HB23, California SB 260, Delaware SB 9, Indiana HB1108.
- Community Based Alternatives to Detention | Nebraska LB 561, Georgia HB 242
- Mental Health | Arkansas HB 1029, Washington HB 1524