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.
NCSL has updated the comprehensive “Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy” report. Since its original publication in 2018, at least 400 juvenile justice bills have become law in all 50 states. Additionally, jurisdictions across the nation have implemented numerous programs that illustrate and exemplify all 12 of the report’s principles. Read the update.
The spread of COVID-19 remains a concern in juvenile detention and placement facilities, where social distancing can be nearly impossible and medical services are scarce. To address these risks, some states temporarily halted intake, modified screening protocols for youth taken into custody, and suspended visitation in certain circumstances. Early in the pandemic, the governors of California and Michigan temporarily halted intake of young people into facilities.
States like New York and Utah changed probation revocation policies, limiting the use of confinement as punishment for violating probation to reduce the number of young people confined during the pandemic. These changes yielded immediate results. A survey of juvenile justice agencies in 30 states by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the number of young people in local secure detention centers fell by 24% in March 2020. The survey notes the decrease in population was driven primarily by reduced admissions into facilities and a slight increase in the rate of releasing young people from detention. However, further data showed that the number of early releases leveled off after the initial uptick in March.
Data from these sites also pointed to racial and ethnic disparities in the system. Before COVID-19, the release rate for white youth was about 7% higher than for African American youth, according to data collected by the foundation. By May 2020, the rate was 17% higher, more than doubling the size of this gap. The widening gap meant that “… white youth experienced a larger population drop than African American youth despite African American gains in admissions.” Additionally, the population decline between March 1 and June 1, 2020, was 30% for white youth and 27% for African American youth.
New Jersey enacted legislation to accelerate previously adopted reforms in response to COVID-19. In January 2020, the legislature enacted a bill that eliminated fines as a penalty for juvenile offenders, put limits on when young people may be incarcerated, and made post-incarceration supervision discretionary instead of mandatory. The new law was set to take effect in November 2020, but after the onset of COVID-19, the legislature passed SB 2511 to fast-track implementation. A co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Nellie Pou (D), said, “The pandemic, however, has made the implementation of this law that much more crucial, as it will help lower populations in certain juvenile facilities and create greater opportunity for proper social distancing.”
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nebraska Legislature enacted two noteworthy juvenile justice reforms. Nebraska already required law enforcement agencies to have a racial profiling prevention policy, but Legislative Bill 924 added a requirement that certified law enforcement officers must complete a minimum of two hours each year of “anti-bias and implicit bias training designated to minimize racial profiling." The law also states that if a law enforcement agency does not meet minimum record-keeping requirements related to racial profiling, the agency is ineligible to receive loans, grants or funds from the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement. The unicameral legislature also enacted Legislative Bill 230, which limits the use of solitary confinement for incarcerated young people. Isolating young people during staff changes or as a punishment for certain behavior is now prohibited. If solitary confinement is used, any confinement longer than one hour must be documented and approved by the facility administrator. The young person must be released “immediately upon regaining sufficient control so as to no longer engage in behavior that threatens substantial and immediate risk of harm to self or others.” Additionally, the facility must notify the child’s parents and attorney of the young person’s confinement within one business day.
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.