Juvenile Justice 2016 Year-End Report


State juvenile justice legislation in 2016 covered a wide array of issues:

  • Broad, sweeping reform measures.
  • Restoring jurisdiction to the juvenile justice system by raising the age and amending waiver and transfer laws.
  • Investing in community-based programs for youth.
  • Addressing due process and rights of juveniles.
  • Limiting the use of restraints and solitary confinement.

Omnibus Legislation

Two states and the District of Columbia passed comprehensive juvenile justice legislation in 2016.

Kansas passed Senate Bill 367, a juvenile justice reform bill that is projected to reduce the number of youth placed in out-of-home commitment by 60 percent over five years, saving the state about $72 million that the legislation earmarks in statute for reinvestment into community-based programs. The bill also enhances data collection and reporting, limits youth transfer to the adult system, requires the state to develop a detention risk assessment instrument for determining pre-adjudication detention decisions, and compels school districts to enter into agreements with law enforcement and other local stakeholders aimed at reducing school-based court referrals.

Connecticut’s legislation includes a requirement by the Court Support Services Division to develop and implement a detention risk assessment instrument to limit the conditions under which a child will be detained and to provide for community-based services for children leaving detention. The law also prohibits state-operated juvenile justice residential facilities from imposing out-of-school suspensions and adds a victim advocate to the Juvenile Justice Oversight and Policy Committee. In addition, the law requires the committee to report on a plan for a community-based diversion system and to establish a data integration working group.

The Washington D.C. Council passed the Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016, prohibiting detaining juveniles for status offenses, putting juveniles in adult facilities and placing unsupervised children into detention facilities before dispositional hearings. The bill also gives juveniles charged as adults the opportunity for release after 20 years. The measure has been transmitted to Congress and will become law on April 8.

Restoring Jurisdiction to the Juvenile Justice System

Raise the Age

In 2016 South Carolina and Louisiana raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 17. The South Carolina legislation, which will take effect in 2019, includes an exception for youth charged with certain violent crimes. Louisiana’s law additionally provides that the juvenile court has original jurisdiction over a child (ages 15 and up) who commits a serious crime such as murder. Transfer can only occur once the child is charged with the crime or if the juvenile court finds probable cause that the child committed the offense. The new measure also creates the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Jurisdiction to be responsible for implementing the requirements of the law.  Louisiana and South Carolina are the 42nd and 43rd states to set the upper age limit at 17.

Transfer, Waiver and Distinguishing Juveniles from Adult Offenders

Vermont enacted legislation requiring that any case involving a defendant younger than 18, except for certain serious crimes, to begin in juvenile court. Cases can still be transferred to adult court, but under the old law, more crimes for 16- and 17-year-olds could begin in adult court at the prosecutor’s discretion. The new law also raises the age of who qualifies as a “youthful offender” from 18 to 22. Youthful offender status expands the scope of treatment services available to those individuals. In addition, the law, requires inmates younger than 25 to be held separately from the general population in Vermont prisons. Similarly, Arizona expanded the list of crimes for which juveniles can be placed in juvenile detention centers, separate from adult offenders. The law allows a juvenile charged with a felony but who is not dangerous to be detained in a juvenile detention center if ordered by the court. It requires the court to consider certain factors when determining where to detain a juvenile, including the best interests of the juvenile charged, the severity of the charges, any existing programs or facilities for juveniles at the county jail, and any other factors relevant to determining the appropriate venue for juvenile detention.

Indiana law now provides a “reverse transfer” mechanism making it possible for a young person who is charged with a direct file offense in the adult system and then acquitted or the charges were dismissed, to possibly have the case transferred back to juvenile court. 

Due Process and Defense Reform

States also enacted laws that increase due process protections for juveniles and provide for quality defense counsel.

Illinois now requires that youth under 15, who are charged with murder or sex offenses, must be represented by counsel throughout the entire custodial interrogation. The law also allows public defenders or attorneys under contract with the county to have access to these youth during custodial interrogations. Additionally, it requires a simplified version of Miranda warnings be given to minors under the age of 18, and requires videotaping of all custodial interrogations for minors charged with any felony offense or misdemeanor sex offense. 

California changed its rules for defense counsel of juveniles by requiring them to have sufficient contact with the child to establish and maintain a relationship. The Judicial Council must also adopt rules of court regarding the establishment of minimum hours of training and education, attorney experience and demonstrated competence, and the encouragement of delinquency training provided by public defender offices.

Delaware codified the Office of Defense Services' current practice of representing every juvenile that requests counsel.

Conditions of Confinement for Juveniles

Five states in 2016 passed legislation limiting the circumstances in which juveniles are required to wear restraints, such as shackles, or be detained in solitary confinement.

Delaware now limits the use of shackles and other physical restraints on children appearing in juvenile delinquency proceedings to situations where the court determines that the use of restraints is necessary and there are no less restrictive alternatives that will prevent flight or physical harm to the child or other courtroom participants. Restraints may legally be used if the juvenile has a history of being non-compliant.

Maine and New York both passed restrictions on the use of restraints on pregnant female prisoners.

Maine’s law prohibits the use of restraints on a pregnant prisoner, detainee or pregnant juvenile. The law also prohibits a corrections officer from being present when a pregnant prisoner or detainee is admitted to a medical facility or birthing center, unless specifically requested by medical personnel. 

New York’s law only allows for restraints to be used if there has been an individualized determination they are necessary to prevent a woman from injuring herself or others, and the woman cannot reasonably be restrained by other means, including the use of additional personnel. The reasoning for the decision to restrain, the type of restraints used and the length of their use must be documented within five days of use. Pregnant women must be notified of the parameters provided in this law. A report on the use of the restraints must be made annually to the Governor and legislative leadership.

California became the 11th state to limit or prohibit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in detention. The law states that room confinement can only be used after less restrictive options have been tried and bans its use for the purposes of punishment, coercion, convenience or retaliation. 

Colorado codified current policy limiting the use of solitary confinement and establishes procedures to follow when a child is secluded for more than four hours. The bill also includes recording requirements and the establishment of a working group to ensure implementation of the law and to prevent reverting to harmful seclusion practices.

Appendix: List of 2016 Laws by State

Omnibus Legislation

  • Kansas SB 367, Connecticut HB 5642, Washington DC B21-0683.

Restoring Jurisdiction to the Juvenile Justice System

  • Raising The Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction: South Carolina SB 916, Louisiana SB324
  • Transfer/Waiver and Treating Juveniles Different Than Adults:  Vermont HB 95, Arizona SB 1308, Indiana SB 160

Due Process and Defense Reform 

  • Illinois SB 2370, California AB 703, Delaware HB 382

Conditions of Confinement for Juveniles

  • Delaware HB 211, Maine S 353, New York AB 6430, California SB 1143, Colorado HB 1328