Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Case for Juvenile Courts

The New York Times
August 13, 2008

This country made a terrible mistake when it began routinely trying youthful offenders as adults. This get-tough approach was supposed to deter crime. But a growing number of government-financed studies have shown that minors prosecuted as adults commit more crimes — and are more likely to become career criminals — than ones processed through juvenile courts.

 The value of specialized courts for young people is underscored in a new report from the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. After evaluating the available research, it concludes that transferring juveniles for trial and sentencing to an adult criminal court has increased recidivism, especially among violent offenders, and has led many young people to a permanent life of crime.

The juvenile justice system was one of the great reforms of the Progressive Era. The push to go back to trying children as adults began in the mid-1990s, when state lawmakers fixated on a few, high-profile crimes by young people and — convinced there was a youth crime wave — came up with a politically convenient solution.

Young people who commit serious, violent crimes deserve severe punishment. But reflexively transferring juvenile offenders — many of whom are accused of nonviolent crimes — into the adult system is not making anyone safer. When they are locked up with adults, young people learn criminal behaviors. They are also deprived of the counseling and family support that they would likely get in the juvenile system, which is more focused on rehabilitation. And once they are released, their felony convictions make it hard for them to find a job and rebuild their lives.

Nearly every state now has laws that encourage prosecutors to try minors as adults. The recent studies of this approach should lead legislatures to abandon these counterproductive policies.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 14, 2008, on page A22 of the New York edition.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Passes S.3155

On July 31, 2008, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary marked-up and passed, by voice vote, S. 3155, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008, bi-partisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and originally co-sponsored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI).

As introduced, S. 3155:
  • Encourages states to make critical improvements to juvenile justice systems, including the avoidance of dangerous practices and the adoption of evidence based practices;
  • Gives states authority to retain delinquent offenders under juvenile jurisdiction after they have reached the age of majority, in keeping with state law;
  • Places common sense limits on the pretrial detention of juveniles in adult jails;
  • Creates a meaningful approach for reducing racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice by strengthening the disproportionate minority contact (DMC) core requirement;
  • Dramatically increases federal authorizations for core juvenile justice programs;
  • Creates new incentives for improving mental health and substance abuse assessment, treatment and diversion, as well as for improving case management and re-entry services:
  • Reaffirms the federal-state partnership by supporting states’ efforts to comply with JJDPA core requirements, strengthening research and technical assistance to be conducted by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Policy (OJJDP), and increasing transparency on the part of OJJDP and the states.
During the July 31 mark-up, S. 3155 was further strengthened to:
  • Phase-out use of the valid court order over a three-year period, with a 1-2 year hardship extension for those states that need additional time to make needed changes;
  • Sharpen the focus on mental health and substance abuse services in State Plans and add opportunities for behavioral health improvements under the new Incentive Grants program; and
  • Improve fiscal and performance accountability by juvenile justice-related agencies at the federal level.

The ACT4JJ Campaign has developed a two-page summary of the bill as introduced. Click below to view.

ACT4JJ Summary of S. 3155