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Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy Update

  • Principle 1
  • Principle 2
  • Principle 3
  • Principle 4
  • Principle 5
  • Principle 6
  • Principle 7
  • Principle 8
  • Principle 9
  • Principle 10
  • Principle 11
  • Principle 12

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Introduction

Click on each principle to read updates from the last three years (2017-2020).

In 2018, NCSL published the Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy. This publication, developed in partnership with the public safety performance project (PSPP) of The Pew Charitable Trusts, culminated 11 months of work in 2017 by the NCSL Juvenile Justice Principles Work Group.

The work of this group, and the report produced in 2018, capture fundamental principles for juvenile justice policy.

The principles are rooted in research, reflect bipartisan or nonpartisan values, and help states invest in proven methods to put justice-involved youth back on the right track while keeping communities safe. After developing the principles, the work group explained and illustrated them with examples of key issues and approaches.

The work of this group, and the report produced in 2018, capture fundamental principles for juvenile justice policy.

Since its publication in January 2018, at least 400 juvenile justice bills have been enacted in all 50 states. Additionally, numerous programs have been implemented in jurisdictions around the nation that illustrate and exemplify all 12 of the “Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy".

Principle 1

New research and data continue to contribute to a greater understanding of youth development and effective responses to youth delinquency among lawmakers and members of the juvenile justice field.

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© Richard Ross, www.juvenile-in-justice.com
A comprehensive report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine titled “The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth” details findings from adolescent development and brain science research and discusses how they can apply to local and state policy.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the report stresses the developmental opportunity of adolescent years. It explains how adolescent brains do not fully develop until about age 25, and the emotional and impulsive characteristics of young people can make them more susceptible to committing crimes. Research has also shown that juveniles who commit crimes or engage in socially deviant behavior are not necessarily destined to commit crimes as adults—many grow out of delinquent activity as they transition to adulthood.

The report underscores the “neural plasticity that allows young people to adapt to environmental demands and demonstrate resilience when confronted with adversity.”

The report also notes how brain science can be used to achieve better outcomes for young people and the community. For example, it discusses policy options that provide greater procedural fairness, including interactions with the police and access to legal counsel.  Additionally, it identifies policy reforms that can reduce the harmful effects of justice system involvement on a young person’s future, including expunging criminal records and limiting the use of solitary confinement.

Recognizing that research about adolescent behavior and evidence of effective approaches to juvenile justice had evolved in the two decades since the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) had its last major overhaul, Congress reauthorized the Act in 2018 with bipartisan support. Among its many provisions (discussed throughout this update) is a requirement that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) develop a national system for measuring recidivism. This is an important requirement because states and jurisdictions within states use myriad of definitions for “recidivism” or “reoffending.” 
Some juvenile justice stakeholders note that recidivism should not be the only metric of success. They encourage jurisdictions to track other outcomes such as education, job readiness, and engagement with supportive activities or organizations.

Use state and local data to identify and diagnose a jurisdiction’s specific challenges.

Several states are using site-specific data to help identify and diagnose challenges in their juvenile justice systems. The data allows states to better understand the nature of delinquency in their jurisdictions and implement policy grounded in those specific circumstances.

Maine established the Juvenile Justice System Assessment & Reinvestment Task Force in 2019 and released a report in 2020 with recommendations supported by local data. The task force consisted of legislators, state agencies heads, prosecutors, defense attorneys, service providers, youth and adults with experience with the juvenile justice system, parents, and crime victims. After examining state data, they found that:

  • In 45% of detention cases, the alleged offense was not a crime against a person.
  • In 53% of cases, the reason for detention was to “provide care” for youth.
  • In 47% of cases, youth were held in detention for three days or less, suggesting they were not significant public safety risks.

2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Responses

  • Data collection was especially important to inform public health and reform discussions during COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation conducted a survey of juvenile justice agencies in 30 states and found that the number of young people in local secure detention centers fell by 24% in March 2020.
  • The Sentencing Project built and maintains a national tracker that reports positive diagnoses of COVID-19 among youth and staff at juvenile facilities and the number of publicly reported cases in each state.

Drawing on these and other analyses, the task force concluded that many young people were sent to detention on technical violations of release and probation and that community-based services were critically lacking. The primary recommendations of the task force were to: 

  • Develop an ongoing mechanism to provide flexible funding for community-based services and supports.
  • Create a statewide system of robust and high-quality programming that is sufficient and accessible.
  • Adopt standards and a quality assurance system to ensure the quality and effectiveness of programs.
  • Create an implementation and accountability mechanism to oversee needed reforms.

Washington is another state that is working to increase its use of state and local data to inform policy changes.
In 2017, the legislature passed a measure to create and collect more data on how truancy cases are handled. The superintendent of public instruction is required to collect truancy data from the school districts. The data must include the number of petitions filed with the juvenile court by a school district and whether the petition results in referral to a community truancy board, another intervention, a hearing in juvenile court or any other less restrictive disposition. Also required in the reporting is each instance a young person is detained for failure to comply with a court order, with a statement of the reasons for each instance of detention. The law is designed work in tandem with HB 2449, which encouraged school districts to “establish truancy boards capable of prevention and intervention and that regularly stay truancy petitions in order to first allow these boards to identify barriers to school attendance, cooperatively solve problems, and connect students and their families with needed community-based services.”

Develop appropriate solutions using the best available scientific evidence from across the nation.

Colorado and Tennessee are examples of states that are developing solutions using the best available scientific evidence from across the nation. 

After the passage of Tennessee’s reform in 2018, the Davidson County Juvenile Court (DCJC) sought to bring itself in line with the best evidence and practices. The head judge and the court administrator instituted specialized training from the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI), a nationally respected technical assistance provider. Not only did CJI  deliver trainings on Principles of Effective Intervention (PEI) and Cognitive Interaction Skills (CIS) to the entire probation unit, DCJC chose to invest in having key stakeholders, like the chief of probation and magistrates, become certified trainers themselves. Consequently, DCJC offers these trainings as a part of its onboarding process.

According to CJI’s website, the trainings provided instructions on effective ways to not only interact with youth and families, but with colleagues and service providers, making a positive impact on the entire process. Having court system stakeholders learn new, evidence-based techniques together is valuable because, “these stakeholders hold a considerable amount of decision-making power and authority, yet often are stuck in their own silos.”
According to one of the magistrates, “As a judge, I want to know and understand what probation staff are doing, what they succeed with, and what they attempted doing when working with a young person. That knowledge will better inform the decisions I make on a daily basis.”

Additionally, an interactive tool from The Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted data from OJJDP to shed new light on which youth were ending up in detention. Data from 2015 shows that 10,885 of the 48,043 juveniles held in residential facilities across the United States on a single day were confined for non-criminal infractions, such as status offenses or probation violations. This means nearly a quarter of juveniles in custody were held for minor violations, marking them the largest share of youth held for these acts since this data collection began in 1997. In 2017, nineteen percent of youth in custody were held for status offenses or probation violations, according to the national Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.

Colorado looked at its statewide data and found that between 2013 and 2017, detention admissions declined, but almost half the admissions were the result of a violation, rather than a new offense. Armed with that data, the legislature passed SB 108 in 2019, which expanded opportunities to divert youth from the juvenile justice system and limit the use of detention to only young people who pose a safety risk to themselves or the community.

Principle 2

Lawmakers are continuing to explore ways to fund juvenile justice programs, policies and practices that effectively protect public safety, reduce recidivism and support a young person’s successful maturation into adulthood.

A 2019 report from the Urban Institute features successful efforts from around the country to fund services to young people in communities. Some of the strategies discussed include repurposing youth facilities, leveraging land value, and maximizing state and federal funding opportunities, like opportunity zones. 

One of the states mentioned in the report is California. In its 2018 budget bill, $37.3 million was allocated to establish the Youth Reinvestment Grant Program. Nearly all the funding is competitively awarded to local governments to implement “evidence-based, trauma-informed, culturally relevant, and developmentally appropriate diversion programs in underserved communities with high rates of juvenile arrests and high rates of racial/ethnic disproportionality within those juvenile arrests.”

According to the Urban Institute, the resources can be used for effective interventions that improve outcomes for California’s disadvantaged youth population. In addition, the result of those improved outcomes will be more state savings that can be reinvested to “create a self-sustaining funding stream.”

Consider eliminating ineffective interventions and reinvesting the savings into programs that reduce reoffending and improve outcomes for youth.

In the original “Principles” report, Kansas’ comprehensive 2016 reforms were discussed at length in this section. The state collected data and used research to inform their policies and reduce ineffective and costly interventions. The state then reinvested the money saved into more effective, community-based programs that focus on the risks and needs most associated with each youth’s offending behavior. These could include cognitive behavioral and family therapy, substance abuse treatment and therapy for youth charged with sex offenses. An oversight committee was formed for continued monitoring of the reinvestment.

In the few years after the reforms, Kansas has seen signs of progress. The Kansas Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee reported:

  • The population of the Juvenile Correctional Facility fell 27%—from 237 in 2015 to 179 in 2019.
  • The number of youth adjudicated for misdemeanors in the correctional facility fell from 34 in 2015 to zero in 2019.
  • The average length of probation for a young person in Kansas is now approximately 15.5 months, down from a 20-month average in 2015.
  • Kansas’ use of nonsecure residential facilities has declined significantly in June 2015, there were 316 youth in these facilities, whereas in June 2019, there were only 4.

The reductions in out-of-home placements has allowed the department of corrections to shift tens of millions in savings into the Juvenile Justice Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) Fund. That fund subsidizes community-based programs at both the state and county levels.

Protecting and reinvesting the savings into effective programs is a vital part of maintaining reforms. In 2018, when the legislature re-appropriated $6 million from the EBP fund to the state Department of Health and Environment without support of the Oversight Committee, the committee stepped into action. The chair of Senate Ways and Means Committee, also a member of the Oversight Committee, sent a letter to the governor, majority leader, speaker and president of the Senate questioning the legality of funding reallocation. Due to the commitment of the Oversight Committee and state stakeholders, the funding was restored to the EBP fund.

In 2019, Arkansas enacted reform legislation that requires the Division of Youth Services to develop a reinvestment plan by July 2020 to reallocate funds saved by reducing confinement toward community-based programs.

Create innovation funds to develop the evidence base for promising programs.

States can foster the development of promising programs to address juvenile delinquency with innovation funds. In Wisconsin, state law allows the Department of Children and Families to carry forward unused funds from one calendar year to the next. Since 2017, the unused funds have been used to pay for Youth Justice Innovation Grants that “support counties in launching new, innovative youth justice projects and practices.” In 2019, Door County used its innovation grant to pilot the “Youth Connection Center,” a detention alternative that helps young people complete court obligations while they receive individualized service plans.

Match youth with specific services that provide the level of intensity and length of service that will be most effective.

As referenced in the original “Principles” report, studies have shown that out-of-home placement does not reduce the likelihood of reoffending for young people. A recent study done by the University of Washington and the Annie E. Casey Foundation examined more than 46,000 juvenile cases in a state and found that a stay in pretrial detention increases a young person's likelihood of felony recidivism by 33% and misdemeanor recidivism by 11%.
There can be significant consequences to incarcerating juveniles that carry into adulthood, including substance abuse, barriers to employment and adult incarceration.

According to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement from the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, about 19% of the juveniles held in residential facilities across the U.S. on a single day in 2017 were confined for status offenses or technical violations. Status offenses are violations that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, including truancy, curfew violations, running away, and underage possession and/or consumption of alcohol or tobacco.

In 2019, Washington amended its law to match youth who have committed status offenses with effective services to keep them out of detention. Specifically, the state eliminated the “valid court order exception,” which was a loophole in the law that allowed judges to detain status offenders for disobeying court orders. The new law directs the court to use other interventions designed to support youth and families in crisis and to prevent the need for out-of-home placement. These include nonsecure out-of-home placement options, community-based mentoring, counseling, family reconciliation, behavioral health services and other services.

Principle 3

As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, involvement in the juvenile justice system can have unintended adverse consequences for youth. Secure confinement, for example, can limit meaningful rehabilitation, expose youth to others who are more experienced with criminal behavior, and reduce the likelihood that a youth will graduate from high school. Diverting young people where appropriate can limit adverse consequences and reduce reoffending more than traditional court processing, including for medium- and high-risk youth. Diversion can also enable jurisdictions to realign fiscal resources to support evidence-based community alternatives.

Encourage alternatives that divert appropriate youth from formal court processing.

State legislatures have continued to enact legislation that helps young people avoid unnecessary involvement in the justice system.
Using alternatives to formal court processing is generally referred to as diversion. Diversion programs typically allow a youth to complete certain requirements in lieu of being formally charged with an offense, or in exchange for the original charges being dismissed or reduced. These mechanisms can correct problematic behaviors without involving the justice system and can improve outcomes for youth.
In the last three years, five states have passed laws providing for pre-arrest diversion for young people.

For example, Delaware has a Juvenile Civil Program  that provides law enforcement officers with the discretion to refer to the civil citation program any juvenile charged for the first time with any misdemeanor-level behavior. Through that program, the young person can be required to participate in counseling, treatment, community service or any other appropriate intervention. Legislation in 2018 repealed the sunset provision on the program to allow it to continue.

Florida also passed legislation on pre-arrest diversion for youth and adults in the state. The law implements a pre-arrest diversion program and made legislative findings “that the widespread use of civil citation and similar pre-arrest diversion programs has a positive effect on the criminal justice system and contributes to an overall reduction in the crime rate and recidivism in the state. The Legislature encourages but does not mandate that counties, municipalities, and public or private educational institutions participate in a civil citation or similar pre-arrest diversion program created by their judicial circuit under this section.”

Tennessee‘s 2018 justice reform bill includes a provision that allows law enforcement to issue citations to juveniles for all offenses that would be misdemeanors if committed by an adult.

In 2018, Massachusetts established a statewide framework for diversion whereby judges now have the authority to divert youth from court prior to arraignment. Before this enactment, only police and prosecutors had the ability to divert young people from the system. A complete assessment of diversion and access to community-based interventions in Massachusetts was published in 2019.

In 2019, Louisiana amended its law to give law enforcement the option to issue verbal warnings to young people in lieu of arrest.

As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, Kansas enacted comprehensive juvenile justice reform in 2016 that included legislation expanding diversion. Data there is showing signs of progress. According to Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee, 99 of Kansas’s 105 counties “now operate what are known as immediate intervention programs, an option that diverts youth from being formally charged in the juvenile justice system. According to the 88 counties that reported data for 2018, 89% of youth successfully completed their programs.”

Utah adopted significant legislative reforms to its system in 2017, including increasing diversion opportunities for youth charged with misdemeanors, infractions or status offenses, among other criteria. Following these reforms, the percentage of youth being offered “nonjudicial adjustment” diversion rose from 31% to over 55%.

Find ways to address youth’ risks and needs outside the court system and involve them in diversion opportunities only as long as necessary.

State and local governments are investing in and developing strategies to address youth’s needs outside the court system.

In The Front Porch program in Savannah, Ga., the Chatham County school district, the juvenile court, city and county government, and other local agencies partnered to open the multiagency resource center that diverts young people before they enter the system. The center, focusing on school-aged children and their families, accepts referrals from schools, courts, youth and families and offers assessments and counseling. Specifically, young people who come to The Front Porch are assessed by the staff and referred to a multiagency planning panel, which develops an individual intervention plan for each family. The program is designed to proactively assist low-risk youth and their families in and around Savannah and connect them with services to reduce unneeded court contact. More information about assessment centers can be found here.

Washington state has a similar program out of King County’s prosecuting attorney’s office called Choose 180. According to its website, the program is a pre-filing diversion “designed to be a tool to get at the heart of why youth sometimes make bad choices, and to help keep youth out of the criminal justice system.” Young people referred to Choose 180 attend a half-day workshop with other people in the community who have shared experiences, work in small groups to identify troublesome behaviors and learn how to move forward. Upon successful completion of the workshop, young people have the alleged offense that led to their referral dismissed. The program diverts approximately 400 young people every year from formal entry into the justice system.

Prioritize strategies that task child-serving systems other than the juvenile justice system to meet youth’ needs for matters that do not impact public safety.

In the past three years, states have continued to enact laws and policies that direct child-serving systems other than the justice system—particularly the school system—to address the risks and needs of young people. 

Indiana enacted HB 1421, in 2018, which requires the department of education to develop an evidence-based plan for improving student behavior and discipline. Specifically, the plan must outline ways to reduce out-of-school suspension and racial and ethnic disparities in discipline and expulsion. The plan must also contain a limit on referrals to law enforcement or arrests on school property to cases in which the referral or arrest is necessary to protect the health and safety of students or school employees. Finally, it requires the department of education to conduct a survey of school discipline policies to determine the extent to which positive discipline and restorative justice practices are being employed.

A Tennessee law, passed in 2017, now requires each school board to adopt progressive truancy interventions for students who violate compulsory attendance requirements. The statute explicitly says the “interventions must be designed to address student conduct related to truancy in the school setting and minimize the need for referrals to juvenile court.”

Virginia passed legislation in 2020 to allow for a juvenile court intake officer to defer filing a petition in a truancy case in order to develop and allow the young person to complete a truancy program. In the Falls Church, Va., program, “a probation counselor assembles an interagency team to meet with the youth and parents, and to identify services that will address the underlying problem. The probation counselor develops a diversion contract with the youth and parents and supervises the youth informally for 90 days to provide assistance and ensure complete follow-through.”

Schools, law enforcement, courts and other stakeholders should communicate about the appropriate roles of law enforcement officers and consider limiting their involvement to serious matters of safety.

As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, school disciplinary infractions can develop into juvenile justice involvement for young people when the roles and responsibilities of schools, law enforcement and courts lack clarity. Some see law enforcement officers as an important layer of campus safety. Others, however, are concerned that young people make their way into the justice system when school systems rely excessively on law enforcement and the justice system to resolve minor behavioral problems, rather than serious matters of public safety. According to the US Department of Education, during the 2015-16 school year, approximately  290,600 students were referred to law enforcement or arrested in public schools around the country.
Tennessee, Nebraska and Virginia enacted legislation in the last three years that are examples of how schools, law enforcement, courts and other child-serving entities can define and limit the role of law enforcement.

A 2018 Tennessee law contains a provision that requires school personnel who file petitions with juvenile court to provide documentation of efforts to address problems in school before petitioning the court. They must also provide facts and information that show the need for court intervention.

In 2019, Nebraska passed legislation requiring the state’s department of education to develop a model Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for use between school districts and law enforcement. It requires any law enforcement agencies with school resource officers (SROs) to adopt the model. All the MOUs “will delineate the roles and responsibilities of school resource officers, security guards, and school officials to balance the interests of safety for students and school staff.” The MOUs require SROs or security guards to attend a minimum of 20 hours of training that focuses on:

  • Student rights
  • Understanding students with special needs.
  • Conflict de-escalation techniques.
  • Ethics.
  • Adolescent brain development.
  • Implicit bias training.
  • Diversity and cultural awareness.
  • Trauma-informed responses.
  • Preventing violence in the school setting.

Virginia’s SB 171, enacted in 2020, included new training provisions for SROs and school security officers similar to Nebraska’s. SROs must attend minimum training that includes de-escalation techniques, such as physical alternatives to restraint, awareness of cultural diversity and implicit bias, and working with students with disabilities, mental health needs, substance abuse disorders or past traumatic experiences. Training must also include current brain research on child and adolescent development.

In June 2020, school districts in Minneapolis and Denver voted to remove all police presence from schools due to concerns about systemic racial and ethnic disparities. More information on policies related to racial and ethnic disparities can be found in the update to Principle 10.

Principle 4

Picture State juvenile courts with delinquency jurisdiction handle cases in which youth are accused of acts that would be criminal offenses if they were committed by adults. All states, by statute, set a maximum age for juvenile court jurisdiction over young people charged with a law violation based on their age at the time of the offense, arrest or referral to court. In 47 states, for most offenses, the maximum age is 17, meaning the juvenile court has jurisdiction until the youth’s 18th birthday. In three states—Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin—the line is drawn at age 16, meaning the court has jurisdiction until the youth’s 17th birthday.

Set the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction to an age at which the average youth is able to understand consequences, be held responsible and change behavior with appropriate interventions.

Twenty-three states, by statute, set a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction. Fifteen states and one territory set the minimum at age 10. Nebraska sets it at 11. In Washington, the minimum age is 8; in Connecticut and New York, it is 7; and North Carolina’s minimum age is 6. In 28 states, there is no statutory minimum, which means there is nothing legally preventing a state from prosecuting a child at any age. Massachusetts passed a sweeping juvenile justice reform bill, SB 2371, in 2018. The new law changed the lower age of jurisdiction to 12. Prior to this change, children older than 6 could be charged with a crime in juvenile court. Utah followed suit and in 2020 prohibited children younger than 12 (with a couple of exempted, more serious offenses) from being subject to delinquency proceedings.

Determine the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction, the age of extended jurisdiction and the scope of transfer to the adult system in accordance with research on adolescent brain development, behavioral change and the effects on the public.

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Source: National Juvenile Defender Center
In the last three years, states have increasingly modified the ages of youth who fall under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts and transfer laws. In 2020, Vermont became the first state to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to older than 18. Starting in July 2020, most young people who are accused of committing criminal offenses at age 18 (with the exception of 12 more serious offenses) will be prosecuted in juvenile court. By July 2022, “most youth accused of breaking the law at age 19 will be similarly included in the juvenile justice system, making the 20th birthday the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction in the state.”

Michigan raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18 in 2019. Starting in October 2021, 17-year-olds who commit most crimes will no longer automatically be sent to adult court and will instead start in juvenile court. Violent offenses can still be prosecuted in adult court at the prosecution’s discretion. In 2018, Missouri lawmakers raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18, with the law going into effect Jan. 1, 2021. At that time, all youth younger than 18 will start in juvenile court and may only be transferred to an adult court at the discretion of a juvenile court judge.

North Carolina in 2019 enacted the Raise the Age Modification law, which builds on its 2017 reforms (that raised the age for most offenses, as mentioned in the original “Principles” report). The law includes a provision to allow youth to be transferred back to juvenile court from adult court if the prosecutor and defense counsel agree to the transfer. In 2020, legislation was signed to provide funding to implement the Raise the Age law.

In 2018, three states amended their laws to expand jurisdiction of the juvenile court. In Arizona, the juvenile court can retain jurisdiction over a young person who is at least 17 years old and adjudicated delinquent, until the person reaches 19. California now prohibits the transfer of all children younger than 16 to the adult criminal justice system. Washington adopted SB 6160, which prohibits automatic transfer to adult court for 16- and 17-year-olds who commit certain crimes, such as robbery. In Oregon, because of 2019 SB 1008, young people ages 15 to 17 accused of serious crimes are no longer automatically tried in adult court. Prosecutors must request a hearing to determine whether a young person should be tried as an adult.

Utah enacted more reforms in 2020 to expand juvenile court jurisdiction by limiting the transfer of 16- and 17-year-olds to adult court to only the most serious offenses and only under a judge’s discretion.

Principle 5

As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, juvenile justice professionals must make decisions about how best to respond to youth at various stages of the system. All their decisions have implications for a young person’s life and, at times, for community safety. In recent years, research has identified factors, like gang involvement and substance abuse, that are related to the risk of reoffending for juveniles. Research has shown that addressing the needs of young people charged with crimes, such as providing treatment for substance abuse, can help prevent potential future criminal activity. These factors have been organized into risk and needs assessment tools, which, when used correctly, can help decision-makers identify the most appropriate types of services or supervision for each young person, and target interventions to ultimately reduce recidivism.

Fund and validate assessment tools tailored for specific youth populations in order to better inform juvenile justice policy decision-making.

In the last three years, at least three states enacted legislation incorporating validated assessment tools into the juvenile justice process to better inform decision-making. It is important to note that for these tools to have the expected beneficial effects and limit the risk of error, they must be tailored to the appropriate decision-making stage in the juvenile justice process. They must also be validated, or proven, to accurately predict the likelihood of certain outcomes, and deployed in a way that is consistent with the research.

Arkansas’ law now requires all courts to implement diversion agreements based on the use of validated assessment tools and mandates the use of risk assessment tools in determining whether committing juveniles to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) is appropriate. Courts are prohibited from committing juveniles for misdemeanor offenses (like disorderly conduct, harassment or minor in possession of alcohol) if the validated assessment deems them low-risk.

Colorado enacted reforms in 2019 requiring the adoption and implementation of validated risk and needs assessment tools throughout the juvenile justice system. They include a mental health screening instrument and a tool to be used by district attorneys in determining a juvenile's eligibility for diversion.

Louisiana enacted legislation requiring juvenile detention decisions to be based on objective factors that are compiled in a detention assessment instrument. Solan’s Law, passed in 2019, is designed to reduce the number of juveniles detained by using assessment tools. The law requires that secure detention be used only when it is determined to be necessary based on the child's assessed risk to public safety or to secure the appearance of the child in court. A detention screening instrument to determine the child’s risk to public safety must be used before or as soon as possible after a child is placed in detention. Additionally, each judicial district or parish is statutorily allowed to develop alternatives to detention programs, with no fees to the young people engaged in the program. The law is named after Solan Peterson, a 13-year-old boy who took his own life in a Louisiana detention facility.

Fine-tune such tools to avoid disparate treatment or overrepresentation of particular groups of youth.

Ensuring that assessment tools are well-designed and fine-tuned is important for their effectiveness. The Colorado law mentioned above requires that system stakeholders must be trained on how to use all the tools and develop plans for measuring effectiveness.

When risk and needs assessments are not examined for their ability to target risk factors that predict reoffending among different groups of youth, there is a risk they will increase racial and ethnic disparities, or other forms of disparities, in the juvenile justice system.

A new report from Child Trends gives guidance to practitioners and policymakers seeking to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system and improve risk and needs assessments. The report suggests:

  • Validating risk and needs assessments on the targeted jurisdiction population (regardless of whether the tool has been validated elsewhere).
  • Reviewing risk and needs assessments for reliability among users and within the targeted jurisdiction.
  • Evaluating the performance of risk and needs assessments for potential racial bias and disparate impact on youth of color, including a review of domains and items, cut-off scores and measurements for risk (offending).
  • Engaging in continuous quality improvement—both by continuously refining the risk and needs instrument itself and ensuring the decision-makers using the tool (e.g., probation officers and judges) support its use and have the training and resources needed to implement the tool as intended.

Principle 6

In the landmark Supreme Court decision, In Re Gault, the court held that children facing prosecution in juvenile court are entitled to many of the same due process rights as adults. These include the right to remain silent, the right to notice of the charges, the right to an attorney and the right to a full hearing on the merits of the case.

However, gaps in procedural due process protections for young people remain, and state lawmakers are working toward passing legislation that enhances fairness and protects due process rights for juveniles in the system.

One important issue policymakers are looking at is how a youth’s competency to understand and engage in the court process is to be raised and evaluated. Competency is an individual's cognitive ability to comprehend and participate in legal proceedings. Due process requires that young people be competent throughout the criminal proceeding. Developmental immaturity or mental disorder may make young people less able to assist in their defense or make important decisions as part of their defense.

States are expanding procedural protections by making developmental immaturity a factor in findings of incompetency to stand trial. In 2018, Colorado clarified the procedures for establishing incompetency, as well as restoration of competency, and created juvenile-specific definitions of “developmental disability,” “mental disability” and “mental capacity.” The law allows prosecutors, defense counsel, parents, guardians ad litem, probation officers or the court on its own to raise the question of competency. Utah expanded protections related to juvenile competency in 2019’s HB 330 by making developmental immaturity a factor in findings of incompetency to stand trial. The new law establishes requirements for evaluating a young person’s competency and instructions to forensic evaluators, courts and others involved with the prosecution, evaluation and adjudication of the young person.

Dedicate sufficient resources to indigent juvenile defenders to provide high-quality legal representation in delinquency proceedings and provide for timely hearings at all stages of the justice process.

Utah enacted the Indigent Defense Act in 2018, which provided additional funding to the Indigent Defense Commission’s grant program to help counties pay for lower-income youth’ defense in juvenile court. The law clarified which young people can be considered “indigent individuals” and requires the court to immediately appoint counsel for them. In 2019, amendments to the original law were enacted to “create a presumption that all youth are indigent for the purposes of appointment of counsel and require the court to order representation at every proceeding.” The Legislature appropriated roughly $840,000 in ongoing funds to support the expansion of representation. 

Promote access to justice by communicating legal rights, responsibilities and consequences in developmentally appropriate and culturally competent language.

According to the National Juvenile Defender Center, courts recognize that as a result of their youthfulness, young clients are more susceptible to police coercion than adults, and more in need of legal counsel while facing police interrogation.

At least 30 states have enacted legislation giving young people an opportunity to speak with a parent or an attorney during a police interrogation. California, Illinois and Virginia enacted or strengthened these laws in the last three years. In 2018, California passed SB 395, which requires that anyone under age 16 must consult with legal counsel, either in person or by telephone or video conference, prior to a custodial interrogation by law enforcement. The law prohibits this right from being waived by the child. Virginia enacted similar legislation in 2020.

In Illinois, law enforcement, including school resource officers, must comply with certain restrictions before detaining and questioning a student on school grounds. Parental notification or attempted notification must be made and documented, and law enforcement must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the student's parent or guardian is present during the questioning. If the parent or guardian is not present, officers must ensure that school personnel—including a school social worker, school psychologist, school nurse, school guidance counselor or any other mental health professional—are present during the questioning.

Youth often want to resolve their cases quickly due to anxiety, immaturity, or pressure from the courts or their family. Sometimes they waive their rights to counsel without fully understanding what a defense attorney’s role is or what rights or defenses they may be giving up. To address this concern, some states require that children always consult with an attorney before waiving their right to counsel, regardless of the severity of the charge. Delaware clarified its law in 2018, outlining that the right to counsel cannot be waived by young people of any age if they are charged with a felony or in the custody of the child welfare system. A juvenile also cannot waive the right to counsel if a family member is the alleged victim of the delinquent act. Juveniles may only waive the right to counsel if they have been advised of the consequences at an in-person meeting with a lawyer. Since 2017, Oklahoma requires a youthful offender (a legal designation that includes young people accused of the most serious crimes) to be represented by counsel at every hearing or review through completion or dismissal of the case.

Ensure that rules and expectations for youth are reasonable and that there are clear paths for exiting the juvenile justice system.

Promoting fairness in the system involves holding youth accountable for their conduct, while also making clear what they must do to exit the system. According to the National Juvenile Defender Center, some jurisdictions require young people to manage over 30 conditions of probation over six months or a year. This number of rules and conditions can be difficult or nearly impossible for children to follow. 

The original “Principles” report mentions the “Resolution Regarding Juvenile Probation and Adolescent Development” from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. The resolution recommends that conditions imposed by the court be attainable for young people, and authorities imposing them should be clear about what it will take for a youth to comply in order to complete probation or required programming.

The resolution’s innovative goals were a result of adolescent development research that shows “behavioral modification techniques that incorporate incentives appear to successfully encourage positive behavior change in young people.”

Nebraska enacted legislation in 2018 allowing the probation administration to establish statewide standardized graduated responses, which, as the statute states, “should provide positive reinforcement to encourage and support positive behavior change and compliance with court-ordered conditions of probation.”

More information on graduated responses and probation reform can be found here.

Principle 7

Picture As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, a growing body of research indicates that out-of-home placements do not produce better outcomes for many young people. In some instances, they can even be counterproductive to reducing recidivism and even dangerous for youth.

A 2013 analysis of youth populations by one court in Chicago, Ill., found that, even accounting for other variables, young people who were incarcerated as juveniles do not fare as well as their peers. Compared with kids from the same neighborhood, they are 13% less likely to graduate from high school and are 22% more likely to have entered adult prison.
Based on this research, states are enacting policies that limit out-of-home placement and focus probationary responses on promoting youth success.

Establish rules that prevent out-of-home placement except for the highest-risk youth who cannot safely be treated and held accountable in the community.

As a part of reforms in 2019, the Colorado General Assembly recognized the research and made the following declaration:
“The General Assembly declares that the placement of children in a detention facility exacts a negative impact on the mental and physical well-being of the child and such detention may make it more likely that the child will reoffend. Children who are detained are more likely to penetrate deeper into the juvenile justice system than similar children who are not detained, and community-based alternatives to detention should be based on the principle of using the least-restrictive setting possible and returning a child to his or her home, family, or other responsible adult whenever possible consistent with public safety. It is the intent of the General Assembly … to limit the use of detention to only those children who pose a substantial risk of serious harm to others or that are a flight risk from prosecution.”

In the same bill, Colorado required the formation of a working group to develop an equitable, validated detention screening instrument by January 2021 to be used statewide to inform the placement of young people in detention facilities. 

Legislation Preventing Out-of-Home Placement

Several states in the last three years have established rules that prevent out-of-home placement for youth with low-level offense histories or for young people who commit status offenses.

Arkansas’ SB 152, passed in 2019, prohibits committing juveniles for misdemeanor offenses if the validated assessment deems them low-risk.
Two states established rules related to truancy. In 2018, Colorado amended its Children’s Code to state that truancy and habitual truancy are not considered delinquent acts. A student who is habitually truant may be subject to sanctions by the court but cannot be placed in a juvenile detention facility for truancy. Additionally, the court may not issue a warrant to take a juvenile into temporary custody for a truancy action. In the same year, Utah enacted a similar law stating that no minor may be ordered or placed in secure detention for a contempt charge or a violation of a court order when the underlying offense is habitual truancy.

Three states in the last three years have set age and other limits on who can be placed in detention. In 2018, Nebraska enacted legislation that prohibited children younger than 12 from being placed in detention under any circumstances. Older juveniles may not be detained “unless the physical safety of persons in the community would be seriously threatened or detention is necessary to secure the presence of the juvenile at the next hearing.” Maryland enacted a similar provision in 2019, preventing children younger than 12 from being placed in secure detention unless they are alleged to have committed an act of violence or likely to leave the jurisdiction.  In 2020, Oklahoma followed suit and amended its law to prohibit children younger than 12 from being placed in detention unless “all alternatives have been exhausted and the child is currently charged with a criminal offense that would constitute a felony if committed by an adult and it has been indicated by a risk-assessment screening that the child requires detention.” The law also sets similar limits for 13- and 14-year-olds admitted to detention.

Limit time in out-of-home placement to no longer than what research indicates is effective to reduce recidivism.

In 2018, Tennessee passed legislation to limit the time a youth can spend in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services to six months. The law allows the placement limit to be extended only if termination would interrupt necessary treatment or the young person commits a new offense.

In 2020, Virginia limited the amount of time a young person who violates a court order can be placed in out-of-home placement to no more than seven days.

Structure probation to reduce recidivism and promote youth success, including limiting length of stay, tailoring conditions of supervision and engaging families.

Probation is a common disposition for adjudicated youth. According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, of the nearly 750,000 delinquency cases resolved in juvenile court in 2018, more than a third resulted in probation. An interactive tool from The Pew Charitable Trusts shows probation violations and revocations are major drivers of detention and placement.

A 2018 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation discusses the history and limits of traditional juvenile probation. It lays out a new probation paradigm that “promotes personal growth, positive behavior changes and long-term success for youth who pose significant risks for serious offending.” The report advises probation entities to engage with families, support positive relationships and set meaningful, achievable goals for the young people involved.

As mentioned in the Principle 6 update, Nebraska’s 2018 legislation encourages “graduated responses” in probation, which combine sanctions for violations and incentives for a young person’s continued progress. The incentives available to probation agencies promote compliance with probation expectations and expand the options for responding to probation violations and violations of court orders. Examples of incentives are regular encouragement and positive recognition of progress by probation officers, certificates of completion for classes or programs, or earned recreational free time or extended driving privileges.

Other states are enacting reforms related to juvenile probation. Tennessee’s 2018 legislation creates a maximum probation period of six months and prohibits the court from placing a child in an out-of-home facility for probation violations. A provision in Colorado’s  SB 108, enacted in 2019, requires the state court administration to establish and develop a statewide system of graduated responses.  

Much success in transforming juvenile probation has also been found at the local level. A detailed case study of local probation transformation in the report, “Juvenile Probation Transformation: Applying the Approach in Lucas County, OH, and Pierce County, WA" documents the process of implementing probation reform at the county level.

Principle 8

When it is necessary for youth to be admitted into residential facilities, conditions should be humane and support rehabilitation. Since the “Principles” publication in January 2018, both federal and state policymakers have adopted legislation designed to improve the conditions of confinement in facilities.  
The reauthorization of the JJDPA in 2018 strengthened the law’s core protections and supported evidence-based programs that reflect the science of adolescent development. This includes trauma-informed practices that understand, recognize and respond to trauma.

Specifically, the new law includes provisions covering the shackling of youth and solitary confinement. Within two years of the law’s enactment, states must implement plans that eliminate the use of most restraints on pregnant girls housed in secure detention and correctional facilities. The law makes exceptions for circumstances in which there is an immediate and serious threat of harm, or a risk of escape that cannot be minimized in other ways. The law also calls for states to develop policies and procedures that eliminate the unreasonable use of restraints and isolation in favor of alternative behavior management techniques. Finally, it requires annual data collection on use of restraints and isolation in detention and placement facilities operated by state and local governments.

Establish standards for humane conditions, actively monitor both state-run and contracted residential facilities, and ensure that standards are met.

Delaware and Oklahoma enacted laws in 2018 that established standards for humane conditions specifically for girls in juvenile facilities. Oklahoma created the presumption that no restraints of any kind shall be used on a pregnant prisoner, detainee or juvenile during any phase of labor unless otherwise directed by the physician in charge. Even prior to labor, abdominal restraints, four-point restraints, leg or ankle restraints, or a chain restraint that links to another inmate are now prohibited. Delaware requires feminine hygiene products be provided free of charge to individuals in custody in juvenile facilities.

A practice in some residential facilities that has come under increasing scrutiny is solitary confinement. Also known as room confinement, seclusion, isolation or segregation, it can include physical and social isolation in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day. State legislatures across the country are reexamining the practice of placing juveniles in solitary confinement, restricting it to situations of imminent or serious harm, limiting the time for such confinement and requiring frequent reviews.

Most states currently allow youth to be held in isolation under specified circumstances, but 13 states (up from nine in the original “Principles” report) and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes that limit or prohibit solitary confinement while other states have limited its use through administrative code or court rules. Four of those laws were enacted in the last three years.

As of 2019, Arkansas now prohibits any young person who is detained from being placed in punitive isolation or solitary confinement for more than 24 hours. Exceptions include when the detainee has committed a physical or sexual assault or there is an imminent or direct threat to the young person, other detainees or staff. If a young person is isolated for more than 24 hours, the director of the facility must provide written authorization for every 24-hour period.

Also in 2019, Maryland prohibited anyone under age 18 from being put in restrictive housing unless a director finds clear and convincing evidence that the young person poses an immediate danger to him or herself, others or staff. Any young person put in restrictive housing must have daily physical and mental health assessments to determine whether the minor may be released. They also must be provided access to the same services—e.g., phone calls, mail, food, water, showers, health care, recreation and education—that any other young person in the facility would receive. Each year, every correctional unit must report to the governor the number, age, race and gender of people put in restrictive housing, along with the basis for the decision.

Montana’s 2019 HB 763 prohibits the use of restrictive housing for young people generally.  An administrator, however, may order a youth to be placed in protective custody for temporary confinement not to exceed 24 hours when it is necessary to protect the youth or others. The administrator must review any restrictive housing assignments within four hours regardless of weekends or holidays. Young people in confinement must also be observed by staff at least every 15 minutes and must be visited at least once each day by staff from administrative, clinical, social work, religious or medical units.

Under Nebraska’s 2020 law, solitary confinement longer than one hour must be documented and approved by the facility administrator. The detainee must be released “immediately upon regaining sufficient control so as to no longer engage in behavior that threatens substantial and immediate risk of harm to self or others.” Additionally, the facility must notify the child’s parents and attorney of the young person’s confinement within one business day.

New Jersey amended its law in 2019, passing AB 314, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act. It goes into effect Aug. 1, 2020. The law prohibits the use of any solitary confinement for youth ages 21 or younger and other vulnerable populations, including individuals with disabilities, pregnant people and LGBTQ individuals.

As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, Colorado enacted HB 1328 in 2016, limiting solitary confinement to only emergency situations. The state followed up on that legislation and enacted HB 1329 in 2017, introducing a pilot program to phase out of the use of pain-compliance and pressure-point techniques, isolation and a restraint similar to a strait jacket called the ”wrap”. Colorado saw promising changes within a year, according to a recent report titled, “Not in Isolation: How to Reduce Room Confinement While Increasing Safety in Youth Facilities.” According to the report, “seclusion incidents were down from a high of 302 in October 2016 to 97 in July 2018, a reduction of 68%” and “the median length of time in seclusion also decreased to 37 minutes for the period of March to August 2018. The average isolation time has been under one hour since September 2016. The report also includes more information about effective legislative and administrative policies to reduce solitary confinement or room confinement. 

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Note: Other states may have limits or prohibitions in administrative policy or court rules. Source: NCSL 2020

State policymakers are also passing laws that regulate the conditions and standards of state and private juvenile facilities and provide mechanisms for oversight. For example, Nebraska enacted a law in 2016 that (Neb. Rev. Stat. Sec. 83-4,134.01) adopted reporting requirements for youth facilities to “…provide increased accountability and oversight regarding the use of room confinement for juveniles in a juvenile facility.” Reports from 2017 and 2019 revealed that although Nebraska had limited the use of solitary confinement in statute, “the utilization of juvenile room confinement has generally not changed in the last three years—it continues to be relied upon. In FY 2018-19, the total number of youth subject to room confinement was 631.” These reports may have prompted the 2020 legislation strengthening limitations on solitary confinement.

In 2019, Oregon enacted legislation that authorizes the Youth Development Council to inspect and collect data from facilities in which juveniles are detained to ensure compliance with federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Allocate funds to ensure that youth’ risks and needs are appropriately addressed when they do need to be confined.

Out-of-home placement should only be used for the highest-risk youth who cannot safely be treated and held accountable in the community. Yet when it is determined that a young person must be sent to an out-of-home facility, resources should be made available to address the youth’s risks and needs.

Three states and Puerto Rico enacted laws related to improving the education of students in detention facilities. In 2018, Puerto Rico required the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to provide school education programs, vocational and higher education for the entire sentenced population, regardless of the young person’s custody classification. In 2019, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana amended their laws. Tennessee now requires the Department of Education to develop procedures, to be adopted by the state Board of Education, for providing instruction to students incarcerated in juvenile detention centers for a minimum of four hours each instructional day. Mississippi clarified the record-sharing requirements of the home school district when a student is detained. The law also states that if a young person is detained for more than 48 hours, the student must receive a diagnostic assessment of grade-level mastery and individualized instruction.  The law also requires that a six-week summer enrichment program focusing on language arts and mathematics be available for students who have been detained in the summer months. The Louisiana legislature authorized the establishment of arts-based programming, which includes performing arts, at juvenile detention facilities or out-of-home placement. The purpose clause of the bill stated:
“Arts-based programs have been shown to be effective in promoting positive youth development by teaching valuable skills such as logic, organizational teamwork, and patience and by incorporating the knowledge that ‘failure’ is a critical element of discovery and learning. Studies have shown that integrating the creative arts into all learning experiences enhances academic, social, and personal developmental outcomes. Arts-based programs for juvenile offenders support the premise that participation in arts programming reduces risk factors that cause children to be more susceptible to problem behaviors and enhance positive factors that enable youth to lead productive lives by increasing communication skills, conflict management techniques and positive peer association.”

Principle 9

Picture As referenced in the original “Principles” report, lawmakers can promote success by reducing the obstacles youth face in the process of rehabilitation and the transition to adulthood. Many collateral consequences await youth and their families even after their involvement with the juvenile justice system concludes. Depending on the jurisdiction and offense, these can include requirements to report juvenile justice involvement when applying for military service, possible loss of public housing, difficulties in obtaining employment and education opportunities, and debt from excessive fines and fees.

Consider the ability of youth and their families to pay the costs associated with system involvement and eliminate fines and fees wherever possible.

Cities, states, courts and district attorneys’ offices can levy fines or fees on young people at nearly every stage of the juvenile justice system. A young person or their family’s inability to pay legal fees often results in further involvement in the system. In a 2019 study of young people and their families in Dane County, Wisconsin, researchers found parents can face a $130 per-night fee for their child’s stay in a juvenile detention center, and a $240 fee for a public defender in a misdemeanor case. Among the parents interviewed for the study, the average amount of money charged was $1,796. In 2017, the city of Philadelphia announced it would halt the practice of billing parents for the cost of their children’s incarceration.

In the last three legislative sessions, California, Maryland, Nevada and New Jersey have taken steps to mitigate the negative effects caused by financial legal obligations and eliminated fines and fees.

In 2018, California enacted SB 190, becoming the first state to abolish all administrative fees in juvenile delinquency cases. Specifically, the law prohibits counties from assessing any fees related to incarceration, legal representation, electronic monitoring, probation, home supervision or drug testing. The law does not stop counties from continuing to collect fees and fines assessed before 2018, but 36 California counties have chosen to cease collection of those debts.

Nevada followed suit in 2019 and eliminated a wide variety of fees in the state with AB 439. The law provides that young people or their families do not have to pay for an appointed attorney or any detention fees. Additionally, the law states that services a child receives as a part of juvenile justice involvement be funded by federal, state or county courts and not by fees paid by children and their families.

In 2020, New Jersey and Maryland became the latest states to pass legislation limiting fines and fees. As a part of a sweeping reform bill, New Jersey eliminated much of the juvenile court’s discretion in assessing fines and barred imposing a fine as a penalty during disposition (sentencing). Maryland’s law repealed multiple statutory provisions that authorized the imposition of fines and fees and prohibited the assessment of attorney’s fees if the child’s attorney was appointed. The law will go into effect in October 2020 and is retroactive, relieving young people and families from debt previously assessed. 

Recognize and limit the effects of collateral consequences—such as obstacles to higher education, housing, employment and military service—through appropriate confidentiality protections, expungement, record-sealing and other policies.

State lawmakers continue to recognize and limit the effects of collateral consequences through legislation that expands confidentiality protections, expungement and record-sealing policies.

In 2018, Colorado's HB 1344 expanded its provisions of collateral relief to juvenile cases. Juveniles in the state may now receive an order from a judge that “may relieve a defendant of any collateral consequences of the conviction, whether in housing or employment barriers or any other sanction or disqualification that the court shall specify, including but not limited to statutory, regulatory, or other collateral consequences that the court may see fit to relieve that will assist the defendant in successfully completing probation or a community corrections sentence.”

In 2019, Colorado enacted HB 1335, which clarified that juvenile records can be expunged from municipal courts, generally for crimes that carry a fine or maximum six months in jail, and now allows class 2 and class 3 misdemeanor sex offenses (generally crimes that carry a fine or maximum six months of jail time) to be expunged. The law also provides that young people who successfully complete diversion as an alternative to being charged with an offense shall have any law enforcement or school record expunged automatically. Nebraska enacted similar automatic expungement provisions in 2019 in LB 354, allowing records to be sealed immediately upon satisfactory completion of probation or diversion.

At least four other states made changes in 2019 to make it easier for juveniles to maintain the confidentiality of records or to seal or expunge their records. In Maine, juvenile case records must be kept confidential and only disclosed, disseminated, inspected or obtained by certain parties or by court order. A provision in Texas HB 1760 now allows a court, without a hearing, to immediately seal records related to alleged conduct of a juvenile if the court finds the allegations are not true. It also gives a juvenile court the authority to seal records if the young person was referred to juvenile probation. In HB 44, Wyoming simplified its juvenile record expungement process by allowing prosecutors to petition for expungement upon successful diversion program completion. The legislation also eliminated the state filing fee for expungement. Tennessee enacted HB 168, authorizing juvenile court clerks, under order of a judge, to dispose of juvenile court records and documents 10 years after the juvenile turns 18.

2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Responses

  • Some states, courts and localities temporarily suspended incarceration for nonpayment of fines during the COVID-19 pandemic. More information can be found here
  • The governors in Michigan and California issued executive orders that temporarily halted the intake or transfer of young people in youth correctional facilities.
  • Illinois and New York officials released youth who were within three months of completing their programs.
  • The Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge ordered judges throughout the state to reduce and limit the number of young people held in juvenile detention facilities to reduce their risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Judges were encouraged to work with juvenile justice system workers to identify kids already committed or detained who could be released as long as it was with “…careful regard for the safety of victims and communities in general.”

Support youth development with reentry services that seek to transition juveniles out of the system toward becoming healthy adult members of society.

Reentry services that seek to transition juveniles out of the system and reintegrate them into society are an important part of many juvenile justice policies. In 2018, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) developed a resource for young people preparing to successfully return to the community titled, “Reentry Starts Here: A Guide for Youth in Long-Term Juvenile Corrections and Treatment Programs.” The publication uses plain language juveniles can understand to discuss returning to school, maintaining mental and physical health, understanding community supervision requirements, and using social media responsibly. 

A 2019 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Collaborating for Successful Reentry: A Practical Guide to Support Justice-Involved Young People Returning to the Community,” stresses the importance of collaboration and coordination among multiple agencies and community-based organizations. It identifies the key needs young people have during reentry as:

  • Stability in Housing and Family.
  • Financial Wellness and Income Support.
  • Education.
  • Employment Readiness and Assistance.
  • Social-Emotional Skills.
  • Mental Health, Substance-Use and Trauma-Specific Services.
  • Legal Matters.

One notable initiative that meets employment readiness needs is the Reentry Intervention and Support for Engagement by Integrating Technology (RISE-IT) program out of Arizona State University. The program is housed at Adobe Mountain School, which is operated by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections. Reentry is a key focus as soon as young people enter the school. In addition to high school education, RISE-IT offers students the opportunity to take five-week courses to earn certificates in a number of occupations: industrial trades, graphic design and computer animation, culinary arts, automotive maintenance, cosmetology and fire science. Additional certification is available in CPR and from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

RISE-IT’s advisory board has forged vital community partnerships with businesses, like the printing company AlphaGraphics. According to its website, a lab was started “where kids receive instruction in graphic design behind the fence. Then, through this partnership, a representative from AlphaGraphics comes out to the facility and talks to those kids about potential career options and entry-level opportunities in graphic design.”

Principle 10

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© Richard Ross, www.juvenile-in-justice.com
Compared to young white people, youth of color are disproportionately represented at every stage in the nation’s juvenile justice system. Recent reports have shown the following:
  • Although overall juvenile placements fell by 54% between 2001 and 2015, the placement rate for black youth was 433 per 100,000, compared to a white youth placement rate of 86 per 100,000. 
  • According to a report titled “Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie 2019,” the Prison Policy Initiative reports that 14% of all those younger than 18 in the U.S. are Black, but 42% of boys and 35% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black. Additionally, Native American and Hispanic girls and boys are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system relative to their share of the total youth population.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities are evident in transfers of youth from juvenile to adult court as well. In 2017, Black youth made up 35% of delinquency cases, but over half (54%) of youth judicially transferred from juvenile court to adult court. Information from California reveals that prosecutors send Hispanic youth to adult court via “direct file” at over 3 times the rate of white young people.

This data has prompted questions about the equality of treatment of youth by police, prosecutors, judges and other justice system personnel.

Consider policies and practices that foster data collection, transparency, education and accountability regarding disparate treatment and overrepresentation, and develop and implement appropriate remedies.

The Center for Children’s Law and Policy published its “Racial and Ethnic Disparities Reduction Practice Manual” for public officials, agency administrators, community leaders and other stakeholders who want to create a more equitable and effective juvenile justice system. The manual underscores that the “…strategic collection and analysis of data is a necessary component of any successful effort to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.” The report goes on to say,“The data analysis should aim to reveal patterns in the process as they relate to the demographics. Are African American boys more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white boys? Are Latino girls more likely to be referred to juvenile court for school disturbances than white girls? Are Black youth less likely than white youth to be offered diversion for low-level offenses? Do youth of color spend more time incarcerated than white youth when charged with the same offenses?”

The federal and state governments have recognized that addressing racial and ethnic disparities requires gathering accurate data to identify disproportionate representation and focusing on strategies that address disparities at targeted decision points. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, reauthorized with significant updates in 2018, now requires states to identify and analyze data on race and ethnicity at decision points in state, local and tribal juvenile justice systems. The state must determine where disparities lie, and then develop and implement work plans to address the needs identified. States are required to document how they are addressing racial and ethnic disparities, and a coordinating body composed of juvenile justice stakeholders must be established or designated to advise states, units of local government and Native American tribes.

An example of a coordinating council that has examined extensive data is the Equity and Justice for All Youth Subcommittee of the Georgia Juvenile Justice State Advisory Group. The group conducted a county-by-county assessment and analysis of disproportionality in Georgia and found one of the most effective ways to reduce disproportionate treatment of youth is to reduce harsh disciplinary measures in schools. This in turn helps reduce disproportionate referrals to the system.

In 2018, Vermont statutorily established the state’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel to address systemic racial disparities in statewide criminal and juvenile justice systems. The panel published its findings in 2019 and recommended instituting a public complaint process with the state’s Human Rights Commission to address perceived implicit bias across all state government systems. It also recommended training first responders to identify mental health needs, educating all law enforcement officers on bias and racial disparities, and adopting a community policing paradigm. Finally, the panel agreed that increased and improved data collection was important to combat racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. The panel recommended “developing laws and rules that will require data collection that captures high-impact, high-discretion decision points that occur during the judicial processes. ”

Examples of how jurisdictions can examine their data, adopt targeted reforms, and change policy and practice can be found here.

As reported in the original “Principles” report, California, Illinois and Mississippi require the standardized collection of data on the ethnicity and race of individuals arrested or committed to their departments of juvenile justice. In 2018, Maryland enacted legislation requiring the department of education to disaggregate data in student discipline reports by race, ethnicity and gender. 

Some states have enacted legislation to foster transparency in policymaking. Laws in Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey and Oregon require a “racial impact statement” to accompany legislation to screen for provisions that might result in the unequal targeting or treatment of youth of color.

Ensure that juvenile justice systems and staff are equipped, skilled and educated to meet the diverse needs of youth and families in culturally responsive and linguistically competent ways.

States are looking at ways to ensure juvenile justice systems and staff are equipped with skills and education to meet the diverse needs of youth and families in their communities. The Massachusetts legislature enacted legislation in 2018 that defines bias-free policing and requires the Municipal Police Training Committee to establish and develop in-service training relating to bias-free policing.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the National Juvenile Defender Center have developed concise guides that contain  “bench cards” for judges on addressing bias. The cards educate juvenile and family court judges about explicit and implicit bias and provide tools to help them recognize and prevent bias in their courtroom. A similar card guide was developed to help judges address gender bias and educate juvenile court judges on LGBTQ youth in their courtrooms.

Principle 11

Picture In the last three years, policies have been enacted that involve victims, survivors, families and guardians—and youth themselves—in crafting solutions to hold young people accountable.

An example of community and family engagement can be found in the probation system in Pierce County, Washington. Pierce County probation surveyed youth and parents about what opportunities they were interested in and created a 12-member family council to advise the probation department. The court and probation staff have a “longstanding relationship with A Common Voice, a community-based parent advocacy organization that provides the parent partners for court and offers support and training for parents involved with the court.”

Credible messenger programs are another example of efforts to strengthen programming for young people by increasing supports from people in their own communities. The Washington, D.C., Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services formed the Credible Messenger Initiative, which pairs every young person under its supervision with a specially trained adult mentor who has had similar life experiences with the young people they serve.  According to an article by the Annie E. Casey Foundation:

“Credible messengers went to the same high schools, are living in the same [housing] project, the same neighborhood, may have grown up with a single parent. They were able to navigate those circumstances,” says program manager Charles Dotson. “When a young person says, ‘You just don’t understand,’ credible messengers can say, ‘Yes, I do.’”

Implement policies that provide restorative responses to crime that seek to address the needs of the victim, community and responsible youth.

As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, restorative justice models give people who have been harmed the opportunity to be heard, ask questions and seek restoration; allow those responsible for crimes to apologize and make amends; and involve family members and the community in discussions about accountability, reparations and rehabilitation. According to the National Institute of Justice, there are a variety of restorative justice programs but a “common feature of all programs is some form of meeting that includes the youth who committed the offense, the victim, and a trained facilitator.” The key to restorative justice is the opportunity for the victim to have a voice in the process. 

Several states are passing legislation to incorporate restorative justice practices in the juvenile justice systems. For example, Illinois passed legislation in 2018 that established restorative practices training for Department of Juvenile Justice personnel.

In 2015, the Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) in Nebraska initiated a pilot program for a Victim Youth Conference (VYC), a restorative justice program. The pilot was so successful that by 2018 the programs were being established statewide, in all 12 judicial districts. The ODR coordinates a network of community-based mediation centers across the state and these centers can receive referrals from:

  • Schools (pre-arrest / pre-charge).
  • Law Enforcement (diversion).
  • County Attorneys (diversion).
  • Courts (pre-adjudication).
  • Probation (condition of court sentence).
  • Post-sentencing (for severe crimes).

This statewide coordinated partnership is made possible by Nebraska law, which allows the city and county attorneys to offer VYC as a part of pretrial diversion. The Nebraska Legislature allocates funds to the ODR to subsidize some costs to mediation centers for their  participation in restorative justice programs. A 2019 Law Review article titled “Restorative Justice and Youth Offenders in Nebraska” details the Nebraska program in its entirety and reported the program had facilitated over 220 VYCs in 2018.

The restorative justice diversion model, developed by Impact Justice, has found success at the local level. Four counties in California, Philadelphia and one county in Tennessee have adopted this model whereby “… a young person is arrested for a serious misdemeanor or a felony, such as robbery, burglary, or assault, the district attorney may refer the case [to a youth center] to hold a facilitated face-to-face meeting with the consent of the person harmed, the responsible youth, respective family members, and other impacted community members. A consensus-based plan to make things right is created, and once the youth completes the plan, no charges are filed.” Impact Justice has also developed a toolkit to help communities build the restorative justice diversion model.

Structure and provide access to resources so that justice-involved youth who have experienced trauma or victimization can access victims’ service.

As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, research shows that a relationship exists between violent victimization of juveniles and violent offending by the same juveniles. Additionally, justice-involved youth report high levels of victimization and exposure to trauma. A report titled “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reform for Girls” states that the proportion of girls in the juvenile justice system has increased and many have experienced “abuse, violence, adversity, and deprivation across many of the domains of their lives—family, peers, intimate partners, and community.”

One way that young girls and boys enter the juvenile justice system is through child sexual exploitation. States have made strides in recent years in developing legislation and policy that aid juvenile sex trafficking victims by protecting them, providing resources and treating them not as offenders, but instead as victims.

Twenty-one states now prohibit charging a minor with prostitution, compared to only five states that had these policies in 2011. Proponents of these laws argue they correspond with statutory rape laws already on the books. The reasoning is that if these young people cannot consent to sex under statutory rape laws, they should not be prosecuted for prostitution when they have been forced to engage in sexual activity.

Twenty-six states have enacted laws that provide juvenile sex trafficking victims with specialized services. Many of those services, like those in Florida and Illinois, are provided by child welfare agencies.

Principle 12

Given the dozens of government agencies, service-providing organizations and stakeholders responsible for different aspects of the juvenile justice system in a single state, cross-branch oversight mechanisms are important to ensure that laws are implemented effectively. Every state has a State Advisory Group (SAG) pursuant to the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which, as described in the update to Principle 8, was reauthorized in 2018. SAGs are responsible for monitoring and supporting compliance with federal law.

In addition, many states have established state oversight bodies to guide the progress of juvenile justice system reforms, evaluate whether the system is achieving desired outcomes regarding public safety and fiscal responsibility, and respond to identified problems. For example, Maryland established a Juvenile Justice Reform Council to recommend policy reforms that will improve the outcomes for justice-involved youth. A final report of the council’s findings and recommendations are due to the General Assembly in December 2020.

Equip relevant agencies and stakeholders with opportunities, training and resources to ensure effective implementation.

Juvenile justice policies reach not only into the courts, but into other agencies, such as departments of juvenile justice, child protection, education, mental health, developmental disability, and child services. State legislative responsibility for juvenile justice often includes facilitating collaboration and equipping agencies and stakeholders with adequate resources and training for effective implementation.

One example of this comes from North Carolina. In 2019, the legislature enacted HB 1001 to provide the resources necessary to support the implementation of North Carolina’s 2017 Raise the Age legislation. The law appropriated funds to create assistant district attorney positions, juvenile court and school counselor positions to provide reentry services such as career planning, vocational training and other services for juveniles preparing to exit secure custody. The law also provided additional funding for contracts for community-based and residential programs.

In 2019, Utah enacted HB 404, which created the Justice Reinvestment Restricted Account, a dedicated account that ensures reinvestment into community-based programs.

Invest in data systems, training and other infrastructure that promote transparency and continuous quality improvement in juvenile justice systems.

Data systems and infrastructure to promote transparency and ongoing quality improvement can be established to acquire and make available data that is useful for policymakers.
One of the more important provisions in Tennessee’s 2018 reforms is requirements for state-wide data collection. The law provides for accountability by requiring government stakeholders to develop a plan for the “comprehensive, accurate collection of data and performance measures from all juvenile courts in the state.” Definitions and criteria must be uniform for data collection to ensure consistent reporting across all state agencies. This data will inform future reform efforts in the state.

Structure oversight bodies to enable regular communication among stakeholders, provide access to high-quality data and analysis, and include performance review.

The mandate, purview and expectations prescribed for juvenile justice system oversight bodies shape their activities and influence.

As mentioned in the original “Principles” report, Utah passed wide-ranging juvenile justice reform with broad support in 2017, and that law included the requirement for an oversight committee. The committee has the responsibility to “establish performance measures, collect and report data on those metrics, monitor implementation of policy provisions, oversee public outreach related to the law, help state agencies develop policies and tools, and oversee reinvestment of savings.”

The oversight committee’s activities in the years after the enactment of HB 239 exemplify its importance. Committee members reached out to stakeholders and as a part of this process, more than 500 people attended 18 meetings across the state. The rich feedback led to the passage of follow-up legislation in 2018 to support school districts as they transitioned to handling more school-based offenses without referral to juvenile court.

Additionally, the oversight committee maintains a website that chronicles developments since bill passage, with extensive online data and interactive options to learn more. It also includes resources for stakeholders, such as a catalog of service options for young people by judicial district, instructional webinars and referral guides. The Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act Oversight Council in South Dakota also maintains a website that provides annual reports on implementation developments.

Include individuals in oversight bodies who can bridge the gap between the development of state policy and its implementation.

As the result of many months of data analysis and policy evaluation by a bipartisan, inter-branch task force, Kansas passed SB 367, comprehensive juvenile justice reform legislation in 2016. The law earmarked reinvestment into community-based programs, enhanced data collection and reporting, limited youth transfer to the adult system and required the state to develop a detention risk assessment instrument for determining pre-adjudication detention decisions. It also compelled school districts to enter into agreements with law enforcement and other local stakeholders with a goal of reducing school-based court referrals. In addition, the law required an oversight committee be formed to track implementation of the legislation, review performance data, and make recommendations for changes or improvements.

The committee’s 21 members must include directors from the Kansas Department of Corrections (DOC), Department of Children and Families, the Department of Education, the Administrative Office of the Courts, members from both partiefigures in the Kansas Senate and House, a designee chosen by the governor, one youth member, and designees representing law enforcement, community corrections, court services, victims’ advocates, district court judges, and prosecuting and defense attorneys. Since these high-level members can make decisions for their respective groups, they have demonstrated they can bridge the gap between state policy as developed and envisioned, and its implementation.

According to its 2019 report, the committee “took on the much larger task of planning sustainable reinvestment that will benefit the youth of Kansas well into the future.” In that vein, the reinvestment subcommittee worked with the heads of the Kansas DOC and the Department of Children and Families to improve policy approaches related to “crossover youth,” or young people who interact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Specifically, the oversight committee recommended that the agencies contract with Georgetown University to bring its Crossover Youth Practice Model (CYPM) to Kansas. A state policy team will be developed to oversee, support and monitor three pilot counties. To support these efforts, the Kansas Legislature introduced a bill that requires agencies, including the juvenile justice system and agencies that provide services to children in the welfare system, to collaborate with each other. The bill also provides for more flexibility in using DOC funds for evidence-based services for these youth.