NCSL Juvenile Justice Quarterly Newsletter

State Policy and Legislative News

Washington D.C.

The Washington D.C. Council has passed the Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016. The bill prohibits detaining juveniles for status offenses, putting juveniles in adult facilities and placing unsupervised children into detention facilities before dispositional hearings. The bill also prohibits legal custody of a child younger than 10 from transferring from parents or guardians to the government and restricts the use of solitary confinement of minors. The bill would also give juveniles charged as adults the opportunity for release after 20 years and limits the use of restraints on young women who are pregnant.

The measure has been transmitted to Congress and will become law on April 8, 2017.


Arizona enacted SB 1308 to expand crimes for which juveniles can be placed in juvenile detention centers separate from adult offenders. The law allows a juvenile charged with a felony that is not dangerous to be detained in a juvenile detention center if ordered by the court. It requires the court to consider certain factors when determining where to detain a juvenile, including the best interests of the juvenile charged, the severity of the charges, any existing programs or facilities for juveniles at the county jail, and any other factor relevant to determining the appropriate venue for juvenile detention.

Maine and New York

Maine, with the enactment of Public Law, Chapter 315, and New York, with the passage of AB 6430, also restrict the use of restraints on pregnant female prisoners. Maine’s law prohibits the use of restraints on a pregnant prisoner, detainee or pregnant juvenile. The law also prohibits a corrections officer from being present when a pregnant prisoner or detainee is admitted to a medical facility or birthing center, unless specifically requested by medical personnel.  The law also requires a record be kept stating why using restraints was necessary. New York’s law only allows for restraints to be used if there has been an individualized determination they are necessary to prevent a woman from injuring herself or others, and the woman cannot reasonably be restrained by other means, including the use of additional personnel. The reasoning for the decision to restrain, the type of restraints used and the length of their use must be documented within five days of use. Pregnant women must be notified of the parameters provided in this law. A report on the use of the restraints must be made annually to the Governor and legislative leadership.

From the Courts

A lawsuit being heard in federal district court will decide if policy actions taken by Maryland’s Parole Commission will bring the state into compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama. In the suit, the American Civil Liberties Union contends that Maryland's sentencing and parole schemes violate Miller because they condemn youth to sentences of life in prison without meaningfully considering their age. The commission contends that the lawsuit is moot and should be dismissed because it plans to hold hearings within the next year for nearly 300 inmates sentenced to life for crimes committed as juveniles. As part of the hearings, new regulations require the commission to consider several factors, including the inmate's level of maturity, home environment and family relationships at the time of the offense, and whether others pressured them into committing the crime. The ACLU contends that these changes are not substantive. The court held a hearing on Jan. 4,  but has yet to reach a decision on the motion to dismiss the case.

NCSL Publications

NCSL recently released a new postcard on state efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.  At least 15 states in the past decade have enacted legislation identifying and addressing over-representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system.

Other Juvenile Justice Publications

The National Institute of Justice, in collaboration with Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, released a new report with recommendations for policymakers to take a bipartisan approach to replace the nation’s reliance on youth prisons.

“The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model”  was presented to stakeholders and researchers in the juvenile justice field at a briefing event in Washington, D.C., convened by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. The authors are Patrick McCarthy, Vincent Schiraldi and Miriam Shark. 

The report highlights that America’s current approach to youth incarceration is costly, ineffective and can seriously harm young people. It documents recent research in developmental psychology and argues that states and localities should adopt a different approach that protects public safety and is more informed by evidence of what works.

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) recently released Righting Wrongs: The Five-Year Groundswell of State Bans on Life Without Parole for Children. The report notes that the number of states that ban sentences of life in prison without parole for children ages 17 and younger has more than tripled in the last five years.  In 2011, just five states banned life without parole for children. Today, 17 states ban the practice, and another five ban the sentences in most cases. Several additional states have never imposed the sentence on a child. Legislation to eliminate the practice has been bipartisan with bans passing in Republican-led states such as Wyoming and Utah, and Democratic-led states, including Delaware and Connecticut.

The National Collaboration for Youth recently released "Beyond Bars: Keeping Young People Safe at Home and Out of Youth Prisons. " The publication offers a blueprint for systems and communities to establish guiding principles, core services and an organizing tool to shift from a facility-based juvenile justice system to a community-based youth justice system.

State in Focus: California

The California legislature enacted three significant juvenile justice related laws in 2016. 

Senate Bill 1143, makes California the 11th state to limit or prohibit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in detention. The law states that room confinement can only be used after less restrictive options have been tried and bans its use for the purposes of punishment, coercion, convenience or retaliation. Senator Mark Leno, the bill’s sponsor said, “Senate Bill 1143 protects the health and dignity of the young people in our car,” adding that “Limiting the use of room confinement in our juvenile detention facilities will lead to better rehabilitative outcomes and a safer correctional environment for staff and youth.”

Assembly Bill 1998 updates reporting standards for state juvenile justice grants and requires the state Board of State and Community Corrections to develop recommendations on how to disaggregate juvenile justice caseload, performance and outcome data by race and ethnicity. The guidelines for the counties are optional, but it is hoped these guidelines will help the state track the number of Latino youth in the system.

Assembly Bill 1843, signed into law on Sept. 27, 2016, aims to reduce the collateral consequences of young people who get involved with the juvenile justice system. The new law prohibits prospective employers from learning about a youth’s juvenile record, e.g. anything related to arrest, detention, processing, diversion, supervision, adjudication or court disposition. Limited exemptions to these protections exist for certain jobs in law enforcement and health facilities.