By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow
The year 2016 has started off very well for youth justice issues, as actions and movements throughout the country have raised hopes of a positive evolution towards reforming and ending the adultification of youth. On the national level, the most important step at the beginning of this year was taken by President Obama, who used his executive authority to end the use of solitary confinement for youth in the federal prison system. Almost at the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that its Miller v. Alabama decision, which found that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment, was retroactive.
At the state level too, great movement is underway, from California where Governor Brown officially showed his support for a sentencing reform referendum that would include ending direct file, to Wisconsin where a report recommending raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction has just been released. Legislation in Wisconsin to do just that is pending. Earlier this month, another report, authorized by the Louisiana legislature, analyzed the benefits of raising the age in Louisiana and advocated strongly in favor of doing so. Louisiana’s legislative session starts in mid-March.
Additionally, a lot of legislative action is already happening across the country, with the potential of improving the lives of thousands of kids. This week should be crucial for the future of key bills dealing with juvenile justice issues, starting on Wednesday in Missouri with a Senate Committee hearing on SB 618 and SB 684, two bills that would keep more kids out of adult facilities.
In Florida, a second hearing on SB 314 was held today, February 11th. This bill would modify the direct file statutes to decrease the number of offenses in which a child can be direct filed in criminal court and create a reverse waiver mechanism. The bill was approved unanimously by the Committee today, after passing unanimously out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee late last year. Today also, the conservative James Madison Institute released a report analyzing the long-term costs of the bill, and recommending that it be supported.
Additionally today, another hearing took place in Maryland on SB 243, a bill which would repeal laws that allow the automatic transfer of kids into the adult system. Finally, Michigan’s House Committee on Criminal Justice is expected to vote on a raise the age reform any day now.
Show your support, take action and be part of this movement of change. Together, we can create a better future for our children and a safer, fairer society.