Juvenile Justice 2021 Year-End Report



State juvenile justice legislation in 2021 focused on amending ages of juvenile court jurisdiction, addressing due process rights and police interrogations, sealing and expunging records and limiting the amount of fines or fees paid by justice involved youth. North Dakota enacted a major overhaul of its juvenile code, two states enacted legislation that ensures more legislative oversight over juvenile justice institutions and one state changed how it handles status offenses. Many of the laws enacted in 2021 reflected the policies and principles laid out in NCSL’s publication Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy and in the Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy Update released in 2020.

Comprehensive Reform

In 2021, the North Dakota Legislature enacted a major overhaul in the juvenile justice code—something that has not happened since 1969. The bill makes significant changes, including how the state designates certain populations of young people when they encounter the justice system. The law replaces the designation “unruly child” with “child in need of services,” reduces confusion in how cases are handled and allows youth access to social services without having to formally enter the juvenile justice system. The bill also restricts out-of-home placements in some circumstances and requires the use of validated risk and needs assessments to support decisions about diversion and out-of-home placements. Finally, the law designates a presumption that all juveniles are indigent and therefore are provided a right to counsel in delinquency proceedings.

Status Offenses

Idaho became the latest state to enact legislation prohibiting out-of-home placement for status offenses (offenses that would not be a crime if committed by an adult like truancy, curfew violations, running away etc.).

Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

Six states—Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York and North Carolina—made statutory changes increasing the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction.

Connecticut raised its minimum age of prosecution from age 7 to age 10 and New York raised it from age 7 to age 12.

Delaware set the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 12, meaning the prosecution of children under 12 is prohibited except in the case of serious charges like rape or murder. The law also provides that children younger than 16 cannot be transferred into adult court, except when they face charges of rape or murder.

New Hampshire set the minimum age of juvenile jurisdiction to 13, unless the person is accused of a violent crime.

Mississippi and North Carolina enacted laws related to age with a more limited scope. Mississippi law now explicitly states that no child under the age of 12 can be committed to the state training school. In North Carolina, the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction is now 10 years for status offenses. There is a provision that allows for 8- and 9-year-old children to be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court if they are accused of committing certain felonies.

Due Process Protections and Police Interrogation

Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Utah all passed legislation ensuring due process protections for young people when they are interrogated by law enforcement.

Delaware now requires law enforcement to electronically record custodial interrogations for both adults and young people in the system, and Nevada and Utah now require police to read a simplified version of Miranda warnings and advise young people they have a right to a parent or guardian to be present before being interrogated. Illinois and Oregon both enacted laws that limit or prohibit lying or using deceptive tactics while interrogating young people. Specifically, if lying or deceit is used, any statements made by the young person are presumed to be involuntary.

Reducing Collateral Consequences: Fines and Fees

Colorado, Oregon, Louisiana and New Mexico all enacted legislation reducing or eliminating fines and fees in juvenile court in 2021.

Colorado’s bipartisan bill eliminated many fines and fees that young people in the justice system, or their parents, were facing including:

  • Costs associated with the care for a young person sent to placement.
  • Processing fees for court-appointed counsel. 
  • Costs of medical care in the youthful offender system.
  • Fees related to participating in programs like restorative justice programs or community service.
  • Late payment and penalty fees.

Oregon now prohibits courts and agencies from charging fees or fines to youth or families who are involved in the juvenile justice system. This will not affect any restitution obligations a young person may need to pay to victims.

Louisiana now prohibits the juvenile courts from assessing costs against the young person or their parents in delinquency proceedings. Specifically, fees may not be assessed on young people for “any judicial expenses or to cover any operating expenses of the court; including but not limited to any salaries of court personnel, the establishment or maintenance of a law library for the court, or the purchase or maintenance of any type of equipment or supplies …” This law sunsets in 2026.

The New Mexico legislature removed a nonrefundable “application fee” for a juvenile public defender, therefore making it easier and less costly for young people and their parents to seek representation.

Sealing and Expungement of Records

At least five states in 2021 made it easier for young people to seal or expunge their records. 

Delaware enacted the Clean Slate Act, which will automate Delaware’s existing criminal record expungement process for thousands of adults in the criminal legal system and youth in the juvenile legal system by eliminating the need for them to file a petition with the State Bureau of Identification (SBI).

Indiana now provides a procedure for automatic expungement of most misdemeanor records within 60 days of a young person reaching age 19. Judges are allowed discretion to not expunge a record if it “would not serve the interests of justice.”

Oregon now automatically clears the records of young people who have arrest records but who were not convicted in juvenile court. The law also makes it easier for those young people seeking expunction of records to have access to court-appointed counsel.

Before Nevada changed its law, the automatic expungement of some juvenile records could only occur after the young person turned 21. Now, some records can automatically be expunged within 60 days of a person turning 18. Oklahoma enacted a similar law, and now allows young people who turn 18 to file for expungement of records, instead of having to wait to file when they are 21.

Legislative Oversight of Juvenile Institutions

Montana and Nevada enacted legislation this year that increases legislative oversight of juvenile institutions and facilities.

Montana enacted oversight provisions that now require adult and youth correctional facilities to grant “unlimited and immediate” access to state legislators. Additionally, the law requires all contracts with any correctional facilities to specify that a legislator shall have access to any facilities or programs at all times. Nevada now requires the director of the department of corrections to track expenses directly related to housing youthful offenders and the director must then submit an annual report to the Director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau for transmittal to the Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice.

Appendix List of 2021 Laws by State

Comprehensive Reform
North Dakota HB 1035

Status Offenses
Idaho HB 26

Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction 
Connecticut HB 6667, New York SB 4051, Delaware HB 115, New Hampshire SB 96, Mississippi SB2282, North Carolina SB 207.

Due Process Protections and Police Interrogations
Delaware SB 215, Nevada AB 132, Utah HB 158, Illinois SB 2122, Oregon SB 418.

Reducing Collateral Consequences: Fines and Fees
Colorado HB 1315, Oregon SB 817, Louisiana HB 216, New Mexico HB 183

Sealing and Expungement of Records
Delaware SB 111, Indiana SB 368, Oregon SB 575, Nevada AB 251, Oklahoma HB 1799

Legislative Oversight of Juvenile Institutions
Montana HB 331, Nevada SB357