NCSL Juvenile Justice Quarterly Newsletter

federal news

U.S. Supreme CourtThe U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Oct. 13 in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana. The case stems from Miller v. Alabama where, in 2012, the Court struck down as unconstitutional state laws that mandated an automatic sentence of life without the possibility of parole in these cases. The question now is whether that decision applies retroactively. The case could determine the fate of more than 2,000 convicted juveniles who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. A decision in the case is expected later this year. 

ncsl juvenile justice state teams' meeting

NCSL, in collaboration with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), convened a three-day cross branch invitational “Juvenile Justice Reform State Teams’ Meeting,” in San Francisco on Sept. 29- Oct. 2, for legislators, judges and agency officials. Participants learned about juvenile justice reforms from local and national experts and met in state teams to develop juvenile justice action plans with facilitators that identified strategies to work across branches of government to enhance efforts for youth. The ten state teams were from California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and West Virginia.

The group also went on a site visit to tour San Francisco’s Mobilization for Adolescent Growth in our Communities (MAGIC) programs at the African American Cultural Center. MAGIC is a juvenile justice prevention program that seems to reduce the number of kids who enter the system or fall through social service gaps by efficiently coordinating opportunities, support and resources throughout the community. Participants met with youth and faculty there and learned about the programs’ effective reforms in California. 

state policy and legislative news


The California General Assembly passed Senate Bill 261 and Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on Oct. 3., 2015. SB 261 is an extension of a bill that passed in 2013 which required the Board of Parole Hearings to review the cases of juvenile offenders who committed their crimes when they were under the age of 18 after they have served 15 to 25 years, depending on their offense.

SB 261 now offers the same early parole eligibility for offenders who were younger than 23 when they were sentenced to lengthy state prison terms. The bill recognizes recent research showing cognitive development continues well into the mid-20s, “particularly in parts of the brain relating to judgment, risk assessment and decision making,” said Senator Loni Hancock of California, when she introduced the bill.

The California District Attorneys Association vehemently opposed the bill, arguing that a 22 year-old that can smoke, buy alcohol and enlist in the military should be held responsible if they commit violent crimes. The law will go into effect in January 2016.  


In 2015, the Illinois Legislature passed House Bill 3718, which eliminates the automatic transfer to adult court for children ages 15 and under. The new law also expands discretion of juvenile court judges to make transfer decisions (after hearing both sides of the case and reviewing the rehabilitative services available to the juvenile) for 16-17 year olds except for those charged with first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault or aggravated battery with a firearm.

Additionally, the new law lists mitigating factors a judge may take into consideration when sentencing a person under 18, which include maturity level, presence of a developmental disability, home environment, history of childhood trauma, prior criminal record and potential for rehabilitation.

State Senator Kwame Raoul (D), one of the authors of the bill, said, “For most juvenile offenders, especially those who have committed non-violent crimes, we see better outcomes and lower rates of recidivism when they are able to live in the community and attend school, rather than being detained in a facility far from home.” 


In September, Maryland became the 22nd state to end automatic juvenile shackling by law, rule or policy. The Maryland Court of Appeals and the state Judicial Council, based their anti-shackling policy on a resolution by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Under the new policy, judges will still have discretion to shackle suspects in the event of "a particularized security concern."

New Jersey Update 

In the July edition of the Juvenile Justice Quarterly it was reported that the New Jersey Legislature passed Senate Bill 2003 and was awaiting the governor’s signature. Governor Chris Christie signed the measure on Sept. 10. 

state in focus

Photo of prisoner shackled In May, Utah lawmakers made several changes to the state’s administration of juvenile justice with the enactment of SB 167. The new law requires Utah’s Judicial Council to develop rules for when juveniles can be shackled in court, taking into account the child’s welfare, and ending the practice of indiscriminate shackling. It also requires that before a youth can waive their right to counsel, they must first have a meaningful opportunity to meet with an attorney, and that the court must make a finding on the record that their waiver is knowing and voluntary and that the juvenile understands the consequences.

Furthermore, the law limited the district court’s jurisdiction over juveniles ages 16 and older. Previously, any youth who had been committed to a secure facility and who was charged with a felony level offense would be sent to district court. Under the new law, only enumerated offenses including aggravated arson, felony discharge of a firearm and aggravated robbery would result in the juvenile’s case being heard in district court. Another change made by the law addresses youth who are committed to secure detention after being convicted in the district court. The law requires a report assessing the risk of committing the youth to a juvenile detention facility. The juvenile can only be committed to an adult facility if they would present a risk to others in the juvenile facility and have previously spent time in secure detention. 

From the Courts

In June, Arkansas’ high court became the 12th in the nation to rule that the United States Supreme Court holding in Miller v. Alabama—that juveniles cannot be subject to mandatory life-without parole sentences—applies retroactively. In the Arkansas case, Kelley v. Gordon, Ulonzo Gordon appealed his mandatory sentence of life without parole for his capital murder conviction, a crime committed while he was a juvenile.

The court held that Gordon was entitled to a sentencing proceeding where he could present evidence relevant to his developmental immaturity at the time of the crime. The court reasoned that since Kuntrell Jackson, an appellee in Miller, had been granted a similar hearing in Arkansas, it would go against “fundamental fairness and evenhanded justice” to deny Gordon the same relief. 

The Supreme Court recently took up the issue of retroactivity from Miller when it heard Montgomery v. Louisiana (see Federal News).

NCSL Publications

Cover of Trends in Juvenile Justice reportNCSL released its new report titled “Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation 2011-2015” on Oct. 1. In the past five years, juvenile justice reform legislation in the United States has grown at a remarkable pace and juvenile justice reform has become a largely bipartisan issue as lawmakers work together to develop new policies to align sound fiscal responsibility, community safety and better outcomes for youth. Check out this new NCSL report that highlights these trends over the past five years.

Juvenile Justice Publications

Models for Change: Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice Publishes new briefing on Supreme Court

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation released Professor Elizabeth Scott’s report, The Supreme Court and the Transformation of Juvenile Sentencing, co-authored by Dr. Thomas Grisso, Marsha Levick with the Juvenile Law Center and Dr. Laurence Steinberg  in October. Over the last decade, the Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings affirming that juveniles should be treated differently from adults. This report addresses the key issues facing courts and legislatures under this new constitutional regime and provides guidance to practitioners based on the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment analysis.

OJJDP Releases Research on Youth's Mental Health Needs

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released four research bulletins on Sept. 8 which investigate the mental health needs and long-term outcomes of juvenile detainees. Topics covered in the series include the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among juvenile detainees, posttraumatic stress disorder and trauma within this population, functional impairment after detention (at work, at school, at home or in the community), psychiatric disorders in youth processed in juvenile or adult court, barriers to mental health services, violent death among delinquent youth, and the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in youth after detention.