NCSL Juvenile Justice Update Newsletter


Juvenile Justice 2020 Year-End Report

States were still active in enacting juvenile justice legislation in 2020, even though many state legislative sessions were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of 2020 legislation was on enacting laws diverting young people from formal court processing, providing alternatives to detention, amending ages of juvenile court jurisdiction, addressing due process rights, sealing and expunging records and improving conditions of confinement. Read More>>

Juvenile Probation

Probation is the most common outcome for delinquency cases. But what does probation entail for those juveniles? NCSL has partnered with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to create a first-of- its-kind comprehensive online statutory resource of juvenile probation laws. Read More>>

State in Focus

In January, Ohio became the latest state to prohibit the sentencing of young people to life in prison without the possibility of parole if they were under age 18 at the time they committed the offense. Under Senate Bill 256 young people who commit a crime as a minor are now eligible for parole after a certain number of years: they become eligible for parole after 25 to 30 years for a conviction involving homicide, and after 18 years for all other types of convictions.  The bill is retroactive, so eligible individuals imprisoned in Ohio can petition the parole board for release.  However, the law only grants eligibility for parole; it does not guarantee release. Since the US Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling abolishing mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole, 23 other states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation that ended mandatory juvenile life without parole. Read More>>

On the Fiscal Front

Utah passed wide-ranging juvenile justice reform with broad support in 2017 and this year the state’s Department of Human Services released new data showing how successful the reform has been. Through reductions in spending on out-of-home placement, their infographic shows the state reinvested more than $9 million over two years in a restricted Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Account. The money was used for services like family engagement, crisis support services, and youth employment programs. Among those who continue to be placed in the most secure residential settings, the infographic also shows a 40% reduction in facility-based assaults as staff move away from the use of locked rooms, along with a 26% reduction in those youths' risk to re-offend at the point of release. Moreover, the state was able to reassign over 50 full-time employees from work in locked settings to work in early intervention services.

From the Courts

The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld state law that prohibits 14- and 15-year-old children from being charged as adults. The law, SB 1391, was enacted by the legislature in 2018 and took effect in 2019 but was challenged by state prosecutors. The court rejected the prosecutors’ argument that the law constituted an improper amendment to Proposition 57, a juvenile and criminal justice proposition passed by the voters in 2016. According to the National Center for Youth Law, “Proposition 57 took away the power of prosecutors to directly file cases against juveniles in the adult court and made significant changes to the judicial transfer process—allowing more youth to be handled in the rehabilitative juvenile system.” Associate Justice Joshua Groban wrote in the decision that the law “furthers Proposition 57’s fundamental purposes of promoting rehabilitation of youthful offenders and reducing the prison population…”

Voices on Current Issues

Joe Ligon, age 83, is the nation’s oldest, longest-serving person sentenced as a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole. He spent 68 years incarcerated in multiple Pennsylvania penal institutions. He was released in February 2021 and is reentering a new world. “I’m looking at all the tall buildings,” Ligon told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “This is all new to me. This never existed.” Read more>>

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 (PSPP).