NCSL Juvenile Justice Quarterly Newsletter


State Policy and Legislative News

Maryland repeals transfer provisions, Colorado clarifies role of defense counsel

Maryland passed two laws that repeal mandatory youth transfer provisions and restore juvenile jurisdiction to the juvenile court. House Bill 1295 and Senate Bill 515, passed on April 14,  give judges more discretion to determine whether a young person is tried as a youth or an adult, allowing judges to take into account factors like age, physical and mental health, and possibilities for treatment and rehabilitation. The law does retain exceptions for some serious violent crimes.

The Colorado legislature passed House Bill 1032, which focuses on early access to defense counsel at youth court appearances and detention hearings. In a report entitled “Kids Without Counsel,” it was reported that 45 percent of juvenile cases in Colorado proceeded with no defense attorney present at any point in the case. The new law, passed in May, requires every child who appears at a detention hearing to be represented by counsel and mandates that information about the public defender’s office be included in court summonses. “Children across the state of Colorado will no longer go before a judge in shackles, alone, to learn whether they will be locked up or released pending trial,” said Representative Daniel Kagan (D), who sponsored the bill. “This is a crucial change, and a great victory for justice. Now we can honestly say that we do more for our children than the Constitution requires. When kids stumble, this can help assure that they won’t be kicked farther to the ground.”  Read the report

The New Hampshire legislature raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18. House Bill 1624  prevents most 17-year-old offenders from having an adult criminal record or from being sent to state prison. Bill sponsor Representative Mary Beth Walz (D) said that overall, “the best thing for 17-year-olds is to put them back into the juvenile justice system.” The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police and some prosecutors were vocal opponents to raising the age, but the measure passed in the House 256-40. The new law takes effect July 1, 2015.

The Missouri Senate adopted a resolution, SCR 29, that creates a juvenile justice task force to study and report on several pressing youth court and detention practices. Among the issues the task force will investigate are raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, studying methods to reduce the number of youth in adult detention centers and the long term fiscal impact of treating youth in the adult criminal system. The law states that the reason for assembling this task force is that it is “imperative for Missouri to address the issues involved in treating youth in the adult criminal system and to consider the benefits to the youth, their family and the state of retaining them under juvenile jurisdiction.” The task force must issue a final report on their findings to the General Assembly by Jan. 1, 2015.  

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On the Fiscal Front

Kentucky reforms state Juvenile Justice System

Kentucky lawmakers enacted Senate Bill 200, making numerous reforms to the state’s juvenile justice system. The new law, enacted on April 24, was developed by the legislature’s Task Force on the Uniform Juvenile Code, which issued its final recommendations  last December. Senator Whitney Westerfield (R), the task force’s co-chair and the bill’s primary sponsor said, “The way we were addressing youth was both ineffective and costly to tax payers. This bill will help us improve public safety, get better outcomes for youth and save money.”  

Senate Bill 200 requires data collection to better study juvenile recidivism,  improves funding for evidence based programming and requires the development of a risk and needs assessment tool. Also, it changes how the state addresses status offenders and creates the juvenile justice oversight counsel to manage the implementation of reforms.

Representative John Tilley (D), who co-chaired the task force along with Westerfield, believes these measures “will produce better outcomes for communities because they put a greater emphasis on family involvement at early stages of intervention.“ Read the recommendations

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From the Courts

State courts continue to rule on juvenile sentencing questions left open by the United States Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama. This summer, the California, Minnesota and Iowa supreme courts each issued decisions regarding youth sentencing in their state going forward.

In California, the state Supreme Court ruled in People v. Gutierrez that presumptive sentences of life without parole violate Miller, even if they offer another sentencing alternative. California’s law provided that for certain homicides committed by 16- and 17-year-olds, that the sentence “be confinement in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole or, at the discretion of the court, 25 years to life.” Because the Miller ruling requires sentencing courts to “undertake a careful individualized inquiry before imposing life without parole on juvenile homicide offenders,” the Gutierrez ruling found that the state’s law didn’t grant the sentencing court the full scope of discretion necessary under Miller. The defendant’s, Moffet and Gutierrez, cases were remanded for resentencing without a presumption in favor of life without parole.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court ruled in State v. Vang, that Jerry Vang’s sentence of life with parole after 30 years was not a violation of Miller. Vang argued that his sentence was equivalent to a life sentence without parole and thus violated Miller. The Vang court found that because Jerry Vang is eligible for release after 30 years, his mandatory life sentence does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the principles of Miller. The court also noted that Vang’s sentence was decided with the opportunity to consider his youth as a mitigating factor. 

Iowa’s Supreme Court extended the protections of Miller when it ruled in Iowa v. Lyle that any and all mandatory terms of imprisonment on juvenile offenders is unconstitutional in Iowa. Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote in the majority opinion and said, "Mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles are simply too punitive for what we know about juveniles." In the 4-3 decision, the court ruled that Iowa judges should not automatically subject juvenile offenders to the state's mandatory minimum sentences for crimes such as murder, attempted murder, sex abuse, kidnapping, robbery or vehicular homicide without first considering the offender's background such as age, maturity and family history. Cases concerning juveniles who were sentenced under mandatory sentencing will be sent back to district court for resentencing. Cady acknowledged that resentencing juvenile offenders will be a burden on Iowa courts but that it must be done because "individual rights are not just recognized when convenient." 

To learn more about state actions since the Miller ruling, listen to our free webinar from April 2014.  

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Juvenile Justice Publications

A new report by the National Center for State Courts highlights trends in state courts, including articles on juvenile indigent defense, racial and ethnic disparities, dual status youth, status offender reform and mental health issues. Read the report

A new series of reports from the National Council of Crime and Delinquency finds that though the rate of youth confinement has fallen, some areas of disparities have increased for youth of color. NCCD studied the de-incarceration trend through interviews with key stakeholders, listening sessions in five states, a national convening of juvenile justice leaders, and the compilation and analysis of county-level data from five jurisdictions. Higher percentages of youth of color remain under formal supervision and in state secure facilities. Continue to the series

“Juvenile Defense Attorneys: A Critical Protection Against Injustice” is a new white paper, released by the National Juvenile Defender Center. The paper discusses how the juvenile defender is the only person in the proceeding who is devoted to understanding and defending the child’s expressed legal interests. The paper discusses juvenile defense reform and outlines three key challenges that are unique to representing indigent children, and walks through meeting these challenges. Read the paper

The Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice announced the official launch of its operations and new listserv. The RFK National Resource Center provides consultation, technical assistance, and training to jurisdictions nationwide to enhance system performance and improve outcomes for youth and families involved with the juvenile justice and other youth-serving systems. The center’s areas of expertise include working with state and local jurisdictions to:

The Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as part of its Models for Change Resource Center Partnership

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Juvenile Justice Announcements

SAMHSA-MacArthur Select States for Initiative to Aid Youth with Behavioral Health Needs

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and MacArthur announce that Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and Tennessee have been selected to participate in the Improving Diversion Polices and Programs for Justice-Involved Youth with Behavioral Health Disorders: An Integrated Policy Academy-Action Network Initiative. "This innovative public-private collaboration will help promote strategies to ensure that fewer at-risk youth get detained in a juvenile justice system that is very often unable to address underlying behavioral health problems," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. "This initiative focuses on getting these youth to community-based behavioral health services that can actually turn their lives around for the better." 

New Tool for Tracking Policy and Practice Changes

The National Center for Juvenile Justice funded through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative, has introduced a new online database. The Juvenile Justice GPS (JJGPS - Geography, Policy, Practice & Statistics) is designed to help policy makers, advocates, researchers and the media to chart nationwide change in juvenile justice policy, practices, and statistics. 

Participate in a Multi-System Integration Certificate Program at Georgetown University 

The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University‘s McCourt School of Public Policy is accepting applications through July 25 for the 2014 Multi-System Integration Program. The Multi-System Integration Certificate Program is a weeklong program of intensive study designed for those who want to improve outcomes for youth known to multiple systems of care by improving multi-system integration and collaboration. After completing the program, participants will be responsible for the development of a capstone project—a set of actions each participant will design and undertake within their organization or community to initiate or continue collaborative efforts related to multi-systems reform. Visit the website to find detailed information about the program, including how to apply, tuition, and available subsidies for those with financial need.  

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