NCSL Juvenile Justice Quarterly Newsletter

State Policy and Legislative News

Louisiana

In 2015, House Resolution No. 73 requested the Institute for Public Health and Justice at Louisiana State University to “study the current state of the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems to understand the potential impact of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include seventeen-year olds.”  The Institute published its findings in February 2016, and concluded that the state should consider raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-old offenders because it would benefit public safety, promote youth rehabilitation and create long-term savings for the state. Key findings of this study are summarized below.

  • There is a growing consensus, based on a large body of scientific evidence, that 17-year-olds are developmentally different than adults and should be treated as such. They have a far greater potential for rehabilitation and are particularly influenced—for good or ill—by the environments in which they are placed. 
  • The last several years of reform in the Louisiana juvenile justice system have created a capacity to accept, manage, and rehabilitate these youth in a manner that will predictably generate better outcomes than the adult system. 
  • The initial impact projections are generally lower than states that have recently raised the age before Louisiana, and those states found that the impact on the system was substantially less than first predicted. In fact, states have reported substantial fiscal savings.

Louisiana House Bill 229 has been introduced in 2016 to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction.

Nebraska

In 2013 the Nebraska Legislature moved all supervision of delinquent juveniles from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Juvenile Services to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration. Along with that move came $14.5 million to be spent on new services for youth and a grant program to aid counties focusing on the developing of front-end services for youth. The changes are intended to decrease the dependency on juvenile detention center stays, place more emphasis on rehabilitation, increase family engagement, and provide more services at the community level. The legislature also passed reforms in 2014 that allowed more cases to originate in, or transfer back to, the juvenile court.

In January 2016, Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican reported in his State of the Judiciary address that the juvenile justice reforms passed in 2014 worked. The state has reduced the number of youth in detention by 11.5 percent over the past six months. In addition, the number of youth in out-of-home placements has dropped by almost 8 percent over the same period. “The first principle (of the reforms) is that fewer people should become wards of the state, be incarcerated or placed in group homes,” said Heavican.  

Federal News

In January 2016, President Barack Obama took executive action to ban solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system. Solitary confinement, or “seclusion,” is the most extreme form of isolation in a detention setting and can include physical and social isolation in a cell for 22 to 24 hours per day. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry says solitary confinement of juveniles can lead to depression, anxiety and even psychosis. In an op-ed written by the president, he echoed the negative impact seclusion can have, saying, “How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? ... It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.”

In recent years, seven states have passed laws that limit or prohibit the use of solitary confinement for youth in detention facilities. For example, Connecticut law states that no child at any time shall be held in solitary confinement, but “seclusion” may be used periodically if authorized and the young person is checked every 30 minutes. For more state information, visit NCSL’s resource on this issue (State Juvenile Solitary Confinement Practices).

The president’s actions address all of the 10,000 federal inmates serving time in solitary confinement, and only a few are juveniles. He specifically referenced the story of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old who spent two years in solitary confinement awaiting trial for stealing a bookbag. He was released in 2013 without ever having stood trial or being convicted. He committed suicide at 22.

From the Courts

Montgomery v. Louisiana

In 2012, the Supreme Court abolished mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole in Miller v. Alabama. The court ruled that it is a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to impose an automatic sentence of life-without-parole upon a person who was younger than 18 at the time of a crime.

On Jan. 25, 2016, four years after the Miller ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Montgomery v. Louisiana that Miller must be applied retroactively nationwide to people serving mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences. As a result of the decision, well over 1,000 people sentenced as children to life sentences without the opportunity for parole, will be eligible for review. 

States are not required to relitigate sentences in each case where juveniles received a mandatory sentence of life without parole, but a state may choose either to hold resentencing hearings for each of the juvenile homicide offenders or keep their current sentences in place, but give them the opportunity for a parole hearing. In the hearings, "youth and its attendant characteristics" must be considered as sentencing factors.

State supreme courts in Arkansas, Nebraska, Connecticut, Florida, New Hampshire, Illinois, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, and Wyoming, already applied Miller retroactively to people serving a life sentence and granted them new sentencing hearings. But other states, including Louisiana, did not. Montgomery v. Louisiana now requires all states to apply Miller retroactively. 

Juvenile Justice Publications

A significant portion of youth incarceration in the juvenile justice system results from violations of probation or other court orders. The Center for Children’s Law and Policy have published “Graduated Responses Toolkit: New Resources and Insights to Help Youth Succeed on Probation,” a new toolkit to help jurisdictions create an effective graduated response system or improve an existing system. “Graduated responses” combine sanctions for violations and incentives for continued progress and can significantly reduce unnecessary incarceration, reduce racial and ethnic disparities, and improve successful probation completion rates and other outcomes for youth under supervision.

The National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice has released "Strengthening Our Future: Key Elements to Developing a Trauma-Informed Juvenile Justice Diversion Program for Youth with Behavioral Health Conditions." This report presents the current understanding of child trauma in the context of juvenile justice, identifies nine implementation domains essential to achieving a trauma-informed juvenile justice diversion approach, and highlights case examples from the four states (Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Tennessee) involved in the initiative.

Nearly 30 percent of juveniles arrested today are girls or young women, and their share of arrests, detainment, and court cases has steadily increased over the past two decades. Girls of color and those living in poverty are increasingly over-represented in this trend. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released a Policy Guide on Girls in the Juvenile Justice System to educate states, tribes and local communities about efforts to improve responses to girls and young women in—or at risk of entering—the system.

Juvenile Justice News

The Youth First Initiative, a national campaign to close youth prisons, released new polling data that delves into Americans’ attitudes about incarceration, punishment and rehabilitation. The campaign used a Web-based survey to poll 1,000 American adults over age 18. 

The poll results show:

  • The vast majority of those polled (92 percent) believe that what is most important is that the juvenile justice system does a better job of making sure youth get back on track so that they are less likely to commit another offense.
  • Those polled favor (83 percent) providing financial incentives for states and municipalities to invest in alternatives to youth incarceration, such as intensive rehabilitation, education, job training, community services, and programs that provide youth the opportunity to repair harm to victims and communities.
  • Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of those polled agreed that youth can be taught to take responsibility for their actions without resorting to incarceration.
  • 70 percent favor requiring states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. Young people of color are much more likely to be incarcerated despite committing roughly the same level of juvenile crime as white youth.  
  • 89 percent of those polled prefer including a youth’s family in the design of rehabilitation services.

Mark Your Calendar

2016 Youth in Custody Certificate Program May 9-13, 2016

The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy is holding the 2016 Youth in Custody Certificate Program from May 9-13, 2016. This program is the premiere platform for comprehensive scholarship and exploration of current research and best practices to support youth in post-adjudication custody, and is conducted in part with support from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Center for Coordinated Assistance to States. Specifically, the program focuses on youth in post-adjudication custody and provides detailed instruction and discussion on “what works.”  Program modules review and integrate best practices such as: family engagement, trauma informed treatment and strengths-based approaches. The application period for is now open through March 18, 2016. Please direct questions to jjreform@georgetown.edu

NCSL Webinar April 14, 2016

NCSL will hold a webinar titled “Exploring Justice System Responses to Older Teens and Young Adults, age 18-24” on Thursday, April 14, 2016, at 2 p.m. ET. Stay tuned for details on NCSL’s Juvenile Justice Webpage.

2016 Legislative Summit in Chicago

Join us in Chicago Aug. 8-11, 2016, as the nation’s legislators and staff gather for  the 2016 NCSL Legislative Summit. The Legislative Summit is the meeting where legislators and legislative staff from the 50 states come together to work on the nation's pressing issues, share experiences and influence federal policy.