Juvenile Justice Update is an NCSL digital newsletter for state legislators, legislative staff and others interested in juvenile justice policy. This newsletter provides quarterly updates on state interests, actions and resources and provides links to the latest research. Please feel free to share with all those who are interested, and subscribe to the Update here.
State juvenile justice legislation in 2021 focused on amending ages of juvenile court jurisdiction, addressing due process rights and police interrogations, sealing and expunging records and limiting the amount or number of fines or fees paid by justice involved youth. North Dakota enacted a major overhaul of its juvenile code, two states enacted legislation that ensures more legislative oversight over juvenile justice institutions and one state changed how it handles status offenses. Many of the laws enacted in 2021 reflected the policies and principles laid out in NCSL’s publication Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy and in the Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy Update released in 2020.
The consequences of justice system involvement are often far reaching and can extend past the completion of commitment or probation. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, multiple studies have shown a relationship between arrest and noncompletion of secondary education. In fact, a 2009 study found that 9th and 10th graders who had contact with the legal system were six to eight times more likely to drop out of high school when compared to their non-justice-involved peers.
Research suggests prompt transfer of education records, the development of individual education plans and access to support services to facilitate community reentry for justice involved youth.
On January 26, 2022, Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, signed Senate Bill 324, the Fostering a Smooth Transition for Graduation Act into law. This bipartisan bill creates a support system for young people who have been in more than one school during the course of a year as a result of homelessness, delinquency, dependency or completing court-ordered services in placement. Under the new law, youth in grades nine through twelve with a history of delinquency will be assigned a point of contact who will help develop an individualized graduation plan and ensure that previously earned education credits are properly transferred. Additionally, the student will be connected with school counselors or other mental health professionals and be able to participate in school-sponsored extracurricular activities. Providing for education stability for children and youth in the juvenile justice system was among the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force issued in June 2021.
Commenting on the bill, co-sponsor Senator Pat Browne (R) stated, “The path to graduation isn’t about their hard work or determination in the classroom for many of the Commonwealth’s students, but instead the insurmountable roadblocks that delay or prevent them from completing their studies altogether. I am proud to partner with Sen. [Wayne] Langerholc in authoring this legislation. It will help to remove these barriers, allowing for more young men and women to succeed and realize their potential.”
In January, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that young people serving long sentences may seek sentencing review after 20 years of incarceration. The court found the state’s mandatory minimum 30-year prison sentence without parole was in violation of both the state and U.S. Constitution when applied to juveniles who commit murder. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner stated, “we cannot predict, at a juvenile’s young age, whether a person can be rehabilitated and when an individual might be fit to reenter society.”
Dissenting justices voiced concern that the ruling overstepped the bounds of the judiciary. On behalf of the minority, Justice Lee Solomon wrote, “We acknowledge our colleagues’ view that the New Jersey Constitution permits our intervention here. But we are not legislators imbued by our Constitution with such authority. In our view, the majority today act ‘as legislators’ instead of judges.”
Sentencing review in cases involving juveniles is not a new topic of consideration for the courts. See NCSL’s resources on Juvenile Sentencing and Juvenile Life without Parole laws.
New York is now one of a handful of states that has raised the minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction. Signed into law on December 29, 2021, Senate Bill 4051 increases the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction to twelve. Prior to the enactment of SB 4051, youth seven years or older qualified for New York’s juvenile justice system regardless of the alleged offense.
Taking effect at the end of 2022, young people under the age of twelve who are believed to be in violation of the law will be referred to community-based agencies and mental health services rather than taken into custody. Exceptions to the new age minimum include instances in which the juvenile is suspected of homicide, manslaughter, or murder.
Four other states—California, Delaware, Massachusetts and Utah—have raised the minimum age of juvenile justice system eligibility to twelve years old. New Hampshire set the minimum age of juvenile jurisdiction to 13, unless the person is accused of a violent crime.
Data gathered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention estimated that a total of 696,620 juvenile arrests were made in 2019. 32% of the arrests were of youth under the age of 15 and about a third of these cases involved a violent crime.
A recent analysis from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows a 56% decrease in juvenile delinquency cases between 2005 and 2019. A closer look at the data reveals:
The Annie E. Casey Foundation produced the following infographic on the data.
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).