Juvenile Justice Update Newsletter


State Policy and Legislative News

Two states in 2020, New Jersey and Maryland, eliminated the imposition of fines and fees for young people, and their parents, who are involved in the juvenile justice system. Leaders in these states recognized that the imposition of excessive fines and fees can have lasting effects on the lives of young people, and their families. For those with low-income, even relatively small fines can entangle a young person in the juvenile justice system long after a case has been closed. Unpaid fines and fees can result in extending a youth’s probation, placement in a residential facility, and inability to clear their criminal record.
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). The main sponsor of the bill, Senator Nellie Pou (D), said of the bill, “Currently if a juvenile gets caught in our antiquated justice system they can spend decades trying to get out. This law makes it less likely for a juvenile caught in adolescence to spend a lifetime in the justice system.”

In May of 2020, the Maryland General Assembly repealed multiple statutory provisions that imposed fines and fees for juveniles. House Bill 36, which became law without the governor’s signature, prohibits the court from ordering a parent, guardian or child to pay a fine, fee, or costs in connection with a delinquency proceeding. The law also bars the assessment of attorney’s fees if the child’s attorney was appointed. A unique provision in HB 36 makes the law retroactive, relieving young people and families from debt previously assessed. That makes the law, according to Sebastian Johnson at Arnold Ventures, “the most comprehensive juvenile fee and fine repeal that has been passed anywhere in the country.”

From the Courts

The Supreme Court, with newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, heard oral arguments on Jones v. Mississippi, a juvenile life without parole case, on Nov. 3, 2020.
In 2005, the Supreme Court abolished the sentence of life without the possibility of parole for youth convicted of nonhomicide crimes in Graham v. Florida. In 2012, the court abolished mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole in Miller v. Alabama. In 2016, the court held in Montgomery v. Louisiana, that Miller’s ban on mandatory life-without-parole sentences applies retroactively. The court in Miller ruled that while sentences of life without parole were still permissible, they could only be imposed after judicial consideration.
In 2020, the court is hearing a case that addresses what steps courts must take before deciding to impose a life without parole sentence on a juvenile. Specifically, the court is considering whether the rulings in Miller establish a standard where only juveniles who are incapable of rehabilitation can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Read more on the oral arguments and NCSL’s information on juvenile life without parole. Read more>>

Impact of Kentucky's Juvenile Justice Reforms

A new report from The Urban Institute shows that Kentucky’s 2014 comprehensive juvenile justice reform, which included expanding diversion programs and putting limits on how long young people can be placed out-of-home or on probation, has had a big impact on the state’s juvenile justice system. Specifically, more complaints were dismissed at the outset, diversion rates increased for all youth and diversion was used more regularly for young peopled referred on school-related complaints. Even with more youth diverted from formal processing in the juvenile justice system, recidivism rates remained stable. Read more>>

Voices on Current Issues

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange featured an essay called “For Many Years I Didn’t Believe I was Human”, from The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. Z tells his story about growing up and trying to survive alone at 14 years old, in Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood.

Juvenile Justice Publications and Resources

See the latest research and publications on juvenile justice policy:

Links to external websites and reports are for information purposes only and do not indicate NCSL’s endorsement of the content.

This newsletter was created with support from and developed in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project.