NCSL Juvenile Justice Quarterly Newsletter


state policy and legislative news


Connecticut lawmakers enacted H.B. 5642, making several changes to the state's juvenile justice and school discipline systems. The new law requires the Court Support Services Division to develop and implement a detention risk assessment instrument, to limit the conditions that a child will be detained and to provide for community-based services for children leaving detention. The law also prohibits state-operated juvenile justice residential facilities from imposing out-of-school suspensions and adds a victim advocate to the Juvenile Justice Oversight and Policy Committee. In addition, the law requires the committee to report on a plan for a community-based diversion system and to establish a data integration working group.

As related to school discipline, the law requires schools to offer alternative educational opportunities to a larger category of expelled students and requires schools with a disproportionately high truancy rate to implement an approved intervention model. It also requires the State Department of Education to develop plans on school-based diversion initiatives and educational deficiencies among children in the juvenile justice system.


Vermont legislators enacted H.B. 95 impacting the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile court. The new law requires that any case involving a defendant younger than 18, except for certain serious crimes, to begin in juvenile court. Cases can still be transferred to adult court, but under the old law, more crimes for 16- and 17-year-olds could begin in adult court at the prosecutor’s discretion.

The new law also raises the age of who qualifies as a “youthful offender” from 18 to 22. Youthful offender status expands the scope of treatment services available to those individuals. In addition, the law, requires inmates younger than 25 to be held separately from the general population in Vermont prisons.

state in focus - kansas

On March 24, 2016, the Kansas legislature passed a juvenile justice reform bill (S.B. 367) that is projected to reduce the number of youth placed in out of home commitment by 60 percent over five years, saving the state about $72 million during that time. The savings will be reinvested in community-based programs. Proponents of the new law contend that it will empower courts, treatment providers and communities to keep youth in their homes and expand services that reduce recidivism and improve outcomes. For a full summary of the law, visit this link.

The law was developed after an 11-month examination of the state’s juvenile justice system by a workgroup comprised of all branches of government and segments of the juvenile justice system. The group was chaired by Senator Greg Smith and Representative John Rubin. The workgroup studied the state’s juvenile justice system and related data, and reviewed national research and evidence-based practices as it sought solutions to the issues confronting the state. The workgroup completed its report in November 2015. 

from the courts - nebraska

Iowa Supreme Court Bans Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Children

On May 27, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in State v. Sweet that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Iowa now becomes one of a growing number of states that have abolished the sentence. The ruling is in response to significant Supreme Court rulings at the federal level that have repeatedly prohibited the most serious punishments for juvenile offenders—the death penalty, life without parole sentences for non-homicide crime and mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. 

State v. Sweet involved Isaiah Sweet, who was 17 when he killed his grandparents. He alleged his childhood was marred with extreme emotional abusive at the hands of his grandparents and psychiatric experts testified that he was closer in development to a 12-, 13-, or 14-year-old. The state of Iowa argued that “nothing in Sweet’s background, including his chronological age, his family and home environment, support a lesser sentence than life without the possibility of parole and that “there was no evidence the defendant can ever be rehabilitated.”

The state Supreme Court rejected the state’s argument and ruled that “the parole board will be better able to discern whether the offender is irreparably corrupt after time has passed, after opportunities for maturation and rehabilitation have been provided, and after a record of success or failure in the rehabilitative process is available.” After all, the majority wrote, “the juvenile character is a work in progress.”

Federal News

“The legacy of historical trauma caused by loss of home, land, culture, and language—and the subsequent abuse of Native children in American boarding schools—has had a devastating result, one that continues to reverberate to this day,” said Robert Listenbee, administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), as he  introduced the session, “The Crisis in American Indian Juvenile Justice,” at the National Conference on Juvenile Justice. The conference, hosted by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, was held March 20-23 in Las Vegas, NV.

Citing findings from the OJJDP-supported report, Ending Violence So Children Can Thrive, which show that tribal youth are exposed to extreme levels of violence, Listenbee told attendees that OJJDP is working collaboratively with Native communities to develop and support programs that reflect tribes’ values and help their youth to heal and thrive. He elaborated on federal initiatives to support Native youth, such as the 2015 White House Tribal Youth Gathering. The OJJDP-supported event brought more than 1,000 youth from approximately 200 tribes face to face with senior federal officials who heard about issues important to the youth and their communities. The gathering was part of President Obama’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative, an effort to improve the lives of Native youth by seeking out their voices and making more youth-driven investments in their communities.

Other OJJDP initiatives to support tribal youth include welcoming Marilyn Bruguier Zimmerman, a member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence, as OJJDP’s Senior Tribal Policy Advisor, requiring that grantees include provisions for tribal youth in their mentoring practices and providing funding to expand Tribal Healing to Wellness courts. These courts provide developmentally appropriate, community-based, and culturally appropriate services for youth who come into contact with the tribal juvenile justice system because of substance use.

In closing, Mr. Listenbee called on juvenile court judges and other juvenile justice professionals to help improve outcomes for tribal youth by treating them with “dignity and compassion” and informing their families and communities of their whereabouts as an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of their tribal nations.

Juvenile Justice Publications

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has released the spring 2016 issue of the online "Journal of Juvenile Justice."  The journal included articles on system collaborations related to trauma informed care, probation officer’s knowledge of intellectual disabilities, and the risk for recidivism in truancy court.  

The Campaign for Youth Justice released Collateral Consequences, a new online report seeking to raise awareness on the long-lasting damages caused by the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating kids as adults. These consequences range from having a hard time finding a job to never being able to vote or to get education loans. The report also includes policy recommendations directed to the different levels of government, from local to federal representatives. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative developed infographics that discusses address the causes, prevalence, and signs of child traumatic stress. View Understanding Child Trauma Infographics here.

Juvenile Justice News

Gault at 50 Campaign

In May, the National Juvenile Defender Center kicked off a year-long campaign to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Gault decision. The NJDC Gault at 50 website has more information about the impact of Gault and campaign news.

Mark Your Calendar

2016 Legislative Summit in Chicago IL

Join us in Chicago Illinois, Aug. 8-11, as the nation’s legislators and staff gather for the 2016 NCSL Legislative Summit. The Legislative Summit is the meeting where legislators and legislative staff come together to work on the nation's pressing issues, share experiences and influence federal policy. NCSL is hosting a Juvenile Justice Deep Dive Session entitled, Reaching Across the Aisle on Juvenile Justice Wednesday, Aug. 10 | 2:45-4:45 p.m.


For Probation and Parole Professionals

The second Annual Juvenile Probation Reform Academy (JPRA), developed exclusively for juvenile probation and parole professionals, will be held Aug. 29-30, in Cleveland, Ohio. The JPRA is designed to instruct probation and parole directors and managers on the core principles demonstrated by research to reduce recidivism and improve other outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system. The academy is developed in partnership by the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, the American Probation and Parole Association and the Council of State Governments Justice Center.