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.
Colorado and Oregon both recently enacted legislation reducing or eliminating fines and fees in juvenile court.
Colorado’s bipartisan House Bill 1315 eliminated a number of fines and fees that young people in the justice system, or their parents were facing including:
The author of the bill, Representative Leslie Herod (D), wrote in an opinion column that, “Some might say that making a kid pay for their mistake might teach a valuable lesson. That confuses “fees” (which HB 1315 would repeal) with “fines” and “restitution” (which the new law would not change). Judges will still be able to decide that a kid should pay money either as a punishment or to make a victim whole. HB 1315 would eliminate only administrative fees.” She added, “The systems that are supposed to guide kids onto the right track have instead driven children and their families into the financial ditch.”
Oregon passed Senate Bill 817 which prohibits courts and agencies from charging fees or fines to youth or families who are involved in the juvenile justice system. The law will go into effect at the end of September and all unpaid fees and fines will be discharged on Jan. 1, 2022.This will not affect any restitution obligations that a young person may need to pay to victims.
An approved appropriation bill passed by the Tennessee Legislature will help fund a new juvenile case management and data collection system. According to the Tennessee State Courts, the appropriation is “…part of an ongoing modernization and expansion of data collection and analysis for the courts, which will lead to data driven decision making. In addition, new legislation requires juvenile court staff to report information on new delinquent or unruly cases and their outcomes to the Administrative Office of the Courts. It establishes reporting requirements for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to the Administrative Office of the Courts regarding children referred to services by the juvenile court system.”
On April 10, with a governor’s veto override, the Maryland legislature abolished sentencing a juvenile to a life sentence without parole. Senate Bill 494, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Chris West (R) and Democratic Delegate Jazz Lewis (D), ends the practice of sentencing young people who committed a crime while under the age of 18 to life without parole. It also allows courts to deviate from sentence minimums required by the law when dealing with children younger than 18 and ensures those defendants have an opportunity to come before a judge for sentencing review after 20 years in prison.
“Any human being who reaches his 37th birthday is a different person then, than he was at the age of 17. We all know that from our own experiences. Teenagers act irresponsibly, some terribly irresponsibly. But people can change as they grow up,” said Senator West.
Delegate Lewis pointed out that over 82% of juveniles charged as adults for life and life-equivalent sentences in Maryland are Black and said, “No child should ever be told that they have no hope for the future but to die in prison. We are all of us more than the worst mistake we made as a teenager.”
Is Change Coming to Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System?
Pennsylvania is taking steps to improve its juvenile justice system. A year of work by a bipartisan task force—established by legislators joining forces with the governor and chief justice—has resulted in 35 recommendations for change. See all the recommendations in NCSL’s State Legislatures News article. If all 35 recommendations were enacted, the task force estimates the population of incarcerated young people in Pennsylvania would drop 39% by 2026. This decrease would avert over $81 million in state costs that the task force recommends be reinvested into community-based alternatives.
The Michigan Supreme Court issued a new rule on July 28 that limits when restraints can be used on young people when they appear in court. Specifically, the rule states no “instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons, or straitjackets, cloth and leather restraints, and other similar items, may be used on a juvenile during a court proceeding,” unless a judge finds restraints are necessary to:
Indiscriminate shackling of juveniles is a practice to be avoided when it does not jeopardize the safety of the courtroom,” Justice Megan Cavanagh wrote in support of the rule. “It has been shown that shackling causes unnecessary stress and is harmful to juveniles and their families because it causes shame and humiliation.”
Two of the court’s seven justices, Justice David Viviano and Justice Brian Zahra opposed the new rule. According to the Associated Press, Viviano wrote, “We should allow considerable flexibility for trial judges to manage their own courtrooms, including making determinations regarding the level of security that is necessary to protect the safety and security of all involved…”
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).