NCSL Juvenile Justice Update Newsletter


State in Focus: North Dakota

GavelIn April, the North Dakota Legislature enacted a major overhaul in the juvenile justice code—something that has not happened since 1969. The bill makes significant changes to current law, including how the state designates certain populations of young people when they come in contact with the justice system. The law replaces the designation “unruly child” with “child in need of services,” reduces confusion in how cases are handled, and allows youth access to social services without having to formally enter the juvenile justice system.

The bill also restricts out-of-home placements in some circumstances and requires the use of validated risk and needs assessments to support decisions about diversion and out-of-home placements. Finally, the law designates a presumption that all juveniles are indigent and therefore are provided a right to counsel in delinquency proceedings.  

“We all are interested in our youth becoming productive citizens when they grow up, and we need to help them to get there. This will, I think, help to improve the availability of resources to help these youth, not just lock them away,” said Representative Lawrence Klemin (R), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and member of the Commission on Juvenile Justice.

North Dakota lawmakers also extended a pilot program for tribal juvenile services agreements that aims to ensure all justice-involved, at-risk tribal and nontribal youth have access to similar services. More Information>>

Federal News

Capital buildingOn April 30, a trio of U.S. House members introduced a package of bills to address the needs of children in the criminal justice system. The goal is to fundamentally change the way in which children are treated in the federal system. Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced HR 2908, which seeks to amend Title 18 of the United States Code to prohibit juvenile offenders under age 13 from being prosecuted, to raise the age at which children can be prosecuted as adults to 16 from 15, and to prohibit placement of children in adult federal correctional facilities.

The bill also would amend Title IV of the Social Security Act to allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to award competitive grants to enhance collaboration between state child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Representative Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) introduced HR 2858, which would ban life without parole sentences for people convicted of crimes as children and would permit judicial discretion in sentencing sex crime victims who commit crimes against their abusers. Representative Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) introduced HR 2834, the “Miranda Rights for Kids Act,” which would protect minors from premature waiver of their constitutional rights during custodial interrogations and require that children consult with legal counsel before being interrogated by law enforcement. 

A Look at Racial and Ethnic Disparities 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has conducted a survey since the start of the pandemic in 144 jurisdictions in 33 states to determine the coronavirus’ effects on juvenile justice systems. According to recent data, “the population of Black youth in juvenile detention on Feb. 1, 2021, reached a pandemic high, while that of white youth was the second lowest recorded in more than a year.”

Other findings show that racial and ethnic disparities in release rates from detention have worsened since the pandemic started. “By the numbers, in January and February of 2020, the release rate for Black youth was 4% lower—and the rate for Latino youth was 6% lower—than for white youth. But over the course of the pandemic, the size of those gaps has roughly doubled, to 11% for both Black and Latino youth.”

From the Courts

In Jones v. Mississippi, the U.S. Supreme Court held 6-3 that sentencing a juvenile convicted of homicide to life without parole doesn’t require a separate factual finding of permanent incorrigibility or an on-the-record explanation with an implicit finding of permanent incorrigibility.

Near the end of the majority opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh writes that states can pass laws that offer juveniles convicted of homicide protections beyond what the federal Constitution requires:

“Importantly, like Miller and Montgomery, our holding today does not preclude the States from imposing additional sentencing limits in cases involving defendants under 18 convicted of murder. States may categorically prohibit life without parole for all offenders under 18. Or States may require sentencers to make extra factual findings before sentencing an offender under 18 to life without parole.”

He continued: “Or states may direct sentencers to formally explain on the record why a life-without-parole sentence is appropriate notwithstanding the defendant’s youth. States may also establish rigorous proportionality or other substantive appellate review of life-without-parole sentences. All of those options, and others, remain available to the states.” For more information see NCSL’s blog post.  

Juvenile Justice Publications and Resources

See the latest research and publications on juvenile justice policy. 

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