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Articles tagged with: Juvenile Justice Reform

Treating Youth as Youth: New Jersey Reforms How Kids are Waived to the Adult System

Jose Andres “Shea” Rosario - New Jersey Parents Caucus, Inc. Monday, 17 August 2015 Posted in 2015, Campaigns

By Jose Andres “Shea” Rosario - New Jersey Parents Caucus, Inc.

By raising the minimum waiver age, narrowing the offenses that a young person can be charged for as an adult, creating a reverse waiver procedure, establishing the presumption that a waived and convicted youth will serve his sentence in a juvenile facility, and creating other safeguards for youth in the justice system, New Jersey has taken a small, but important step in protecting our young people from the trauma of the adult criminal justice system. The bill, S2003, was proposed by Senator Pou and signed into law by Governor Christie on August 10.

Originally, youth arrested and charged in New Jersey could be waived into adult court using different criteria, depending on their age and circumstances of the offense. While the waiver age has only increased by one year, from 14 to 15, prosecutors now only have a limited list of offenses to waive. Prosecutors must also clearly state, in writing, the facts that support the waiver application. Courts can deny those waiver motions if they are clearly convinced that the prosecutor abused their discretion in considering waiver factors such as special education status, involvement in child welfare, mental health disorders, and the nature and circumstances of the alleged offense(s).

The list of offenses that a youth can be waived for has also been narrowed. No longer will a non-violent offense such as a computer crime be used to waive a 16-year-old. Adding more protection for youth, if they’re acquitted on their waived charge but convicted for something else, they will be sentenced in a juvenile court where they will only be subject to the penalties under the juvenile code. In addition, there is now the presumption that, unless good cause is shown, detention is to be served in a juvenile facility, as well as any sentencing up to age 21.

While not a true reverse waiver, it is now possible to have the youth’s case sent back to family court, which is a mechanism that unfortunately has not existed in the state. Not only will S2003 decrease the flow from juvenile to adult court, but it will also allow us the ability to reverse that flow. If there is consent from the prosecutor and defense, the court may send the case back to juvenile court if the interests of the public and the best interests of the youth require access to programs or procedures uniquely available to family court, and the interests of the public are no longer served by waiver. Ideally, consent from both parties should not be required, but a form of reverse waiver is absolutely better than no reverse waiver at all. This is another way that the law has created new safeguards for youth to avoid being tried and convicted in adult criminal court.

S2003 is not without its faults. For example, the waiver age is still too low. It sets a higher age limit for those disposed/sentenced to juvenile facilities, but it’s still relatively low given what we know about adolescent brain development. Prosecutors still have too much discretion and do not have to face a high standard of proof in regards to waivers. While some additional burdens have been added on the prosecutor, it still remains the duty of the youth to provide information on things such as their mental health history.

These new, complicated safeguards could be avoided by following other states which have eliminated their waiver system all-together. We need to be reminded that we are still dealing with children who are still in their formative years, who don’t always act out rationally, and who rely on adults to guide them into adulthood. Guiding them into prisons does more harm than good, to the youth, their families, their communities, and society-at-large.

National League of Cities to Hold Leadership Academy on Juvenile Justice Reform

Wednesday, 08 July 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates


WHAT: A two-day convening of teams of city officials and local partners to learn about opportunities to engage in and lead juvenile justice reform efforts, to take place in September 2015.

Despite substantial decreases in juvenile crime rates during the past decade, the nation’s juvenile justice systems remain in great need of fundamental reforms. For example, the availability of high-quality, community-based alternatives to incarceration for youth and supports for reentry is uneven and racial and ethnic disparities within the juvenile justice system are unacceptably large. A number of states and local jurisdictions have made significant progress in improving these systems, relying on evidence-based models that hold youth accountable for their actions in developmentally appropriate ways. In some states, local governments – including cities – have assumed greater responsibility for community-based treatment, diversion programs, and re-entry. These promising developments provide the basis for new and expanded city-led efforts to improve outcomes for young people and communities across the nation.  
The Models for Change initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is playing a key role in reshaping the juvenile justice system, grounded in core principles of fundamental fairness; developmental differences between youth and adults; individual strengths and needs; youth potential; responsibility; and safety. Models for Change has supported counties and states in reforming the way they treat young people who are charged with crimes. Local officials say that Models for Change has helped them improve public safety and support youth, even as they grapple with tight budgets and tough fiscal decisions. 
Mayors and other city officials have unique opportunities to drive further improvements in their local juvenile justice systems. Municipal leaders and their community-based and faith-based partners can explore new roles and resources in collaboration with the courts and juvenile probation. City agencies (particularly in consolidated city/county governments) may also stand to benefit financially from the adoption of promising juvenile justice reinvestment strategies.  
As part of a strategic partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will host a Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform Leadership Academy on September 23-25, 2015. This convening will provide city officials with the skills and knowledge they need to consider and take up leadership roles in juvenile justice reform, giving participants intensive access to national experts, promising practice examples, peer sharing, and local action planning.  
WHERE: The Marriott-Renaissance Depot Hotel, Minneapolis, Minn.
WHO: City elected officials, senior city staff and other community or juvenile justice system stakeholders applying in city teams of up to three persons each.
NLC will select teams up to 10 cities to attend the leadership academy. Each city may nominate a team of up to three representatives that must include at least one of the following individuals: the mayor; a city council member; or a senior representative of the mayor’s or city manager’s office.  Other team members may include but are not limited to:  senior representatives of city agencies including police departments; juvenile court officials including detention or probation officials, prosecutors, public defenders, or judges; and community-based service providers implementing programs for youth at-risk of involvement or youth currently involved in the juvenile justice system.
NLC will select, on a competitive basis, a diverse set of cities of various sizes from different regions of the country to participate in the leadership academy. Preference will be given to cities that are members in good standing of NLC. NLC will use selection criteria that include evidence of high-level municipal leadership and commitment to improving outcomes for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, collaboration among relevant city, county and state agencies, and a clear indication of how the leadership academy can catalyze local efforts.
WHEN: The leadership academy will take place on September 23-25, 2015, beginning with an opening dinner and program on Wednesday evening and concluding with lunch on Friday. Interested cities must submit applications via e-mail (see instructions below) on or before July 15, 2015. We encourage early applications. NLC will announce all selections by July 29, 2015.
BENEFITS: Selected city teams will learn about best practices and lessons learned from the Models for Change initiative; explore successful efforts to improve juvenile justice initiatives in cities across the country, especially through diversion and re-entry initiatives and efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities; gain access to and guidance from juvenile justice experts; and strengthen their relationships with peers in cities across the nation. 
Following the Leadership Academy, NLC will invite participating cities to join the NLC Juvenile Justice Peer Learning Network, s group that provides ongoing opportunities for city leaders to learn and receive support from nationally-recognized experts in the field and from peers in other cities.
TRAVEL: NLC will reimburse participants for airline travel (up to a maximum of $500) as well as hotel and other travel-related costs in accordance with NLC’s travel reimbursement policies. Meeting participants will receive reimbursements promptly upon submission of travel receipts following the convening. 
FOR MORE INFORMATION about the application materials or the leadership academy, please contact Laura Furr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (202) 626-3072, or participate in the Question and Answer session at 3:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

A Call to End the Placement and Poor Treatment of Children with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 01 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

The National Disability Rights Network released its alarming report on the needs of children and youth with disabilities who come in contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. “Orphanages, Training Schools, Reform Schools and Now This: Recommendations to Prevent the Disproportionate Placement and Inadequate Treatment of Children with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System” is an urgent call for action for Congress, juvenile justice administrators, and advocates.
The report reminds us that disparities in the treatment of youth in the juvenile and criminal justice systems is not limited to racial and ethnic disparities or gender—in fact, 65-70 percent of youth in the justice system meet the criteria for a disability, a rate that is three times higher than that of the general population.  Disabilities extend beyond children with mental health needs and learning disabilities and include youth with cognitive impairments, physical disabilities, the deaf and blind, and others. Summarizing practices in schools, juvenile justice and child welfare systems, the report consistently finds that despite what we know about brain development and the success of child-youth centered, family involved, community based services—we still consistently try to “discipline” the disability out of children, often by incarcerating them in inhumane conditions, without access to their families and the necessary services to get them connected and prepared to succeed as adults. 
Furthermore, the report shows how the failure of many other systems’ understanding of how to properly support youth with disabilities leads to an over-referral of these youth into the juvenile justice system (e.g. schools, law enforcement, mental health, child welfare). Once there, a lack of accommodation needs such as the need for sign language, courtroom accommodations, and an inability to accurately understanding his/her rights may lead the child to more severe outcomes, including being certified or direct filed into adult court. 
Several case studies demonstrating ways that Protection & Advocacy Agencies (P&A) can help with advocacy of youth in court and legislative change included several stories of youth charged as adults.  One case study in California outlined a young man with autism who stabbed his stepfather during a behavior episode. His stepfather was treated and released from the hospital the same night; the young man was charged as an adult and found not competent to stand trial.  The P&A was part of a team who advocated that this young man be held in a juvenile facility until proper placement could be identified. Advocacy efforts allowed him to be released from custody and placed into a community home where he could continue to maintain his close ties to his family, church and community, rather than to a regional developmental center, far away from his supports. 
Diane Smith Howard, author of the report states the importance of providing services to youth with disabilities so they aren’t ultimately fed into the adult system, “Research has clearly shown us that the adult system and adult methods of discipline used within that system, such as isolation, do not effectively rehabilitate youth with disabilities, nor are they effective for youth in general.  Yet we persist on using them.   One reason for this is the failure to provide effective and readily available community based services for youth with disabilities, which results in their referrals into the juvenile justice system, which then acts as a feeder for the adult system.  Or worse in some cases, feeds youth directly into the adult system.  In makes no sense to allocate additional funding for programs that are not research based and run contrary to what we know.”
Call to Action: The report makes key recommendations to Congress, the Administration and State Legislators to improve conditions for youth with disabilities.  Highlights include: 
  • Funding P&A for juvenile justice programs
  • Fund the statutes that provide services for this population including Medicaid community-based services, IDEA and PREA
  • Reauthorizing the JJDPA with language that eliminates the valid court order and prohibits the use of solitary confinement for all youth, including those housed in adult facilities. 
  • The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and Department of Justice (DOJ) should fully enforce all provisions of Title VI, Title IX, the ADA Section 504, and the IDEA, including all obligations under these statutes for youth in correctional facilities, so that education of youth in these settings is equal to that provided to students in other public schools.
  • ED and DOJ should expand the scope of their investigations to include youth in federal custody (Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration Detention and other federal programs).
  • States should develop and support programs that provide training in the following rights, laws and regulations: IDEA, ADA, and Section 504, Title VI and Title IX, disparate impact claims, harassment/hostile environment claims, Due Process rights applicable to all public school students, and state specific civil rights laws, to all stakeholders in the juvenile justice system.