Juvenile justice reform in the states

Recent outcry over the case of the Jena 6 in Louisiana has highlighted the need for juvenile justice reform in the states. States can work to reduce racial disparities within their systems and to ensure young offenders receive rehabilitation in the juvenile system, not in adult detention centers. According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, African-American youth are nearly twice as likely to be arrested than their white counterparts and are more than twice as likely to be moved to adult court. Research has shown that only the most serious juvenile offenders should be tried as adults. Juveniles placed in adult facilities face higher rates of suicide and assault and often return to their communities more dangerous than when they left. Focusing on prevention and age-appropriate rehabilitation measures instead of detention is more cost-effective and actually increases public safety. For more information, see CPA’s policy briefs and model legislation for Juvenile Detention Reform, Juvenile Transfer Reform, and Juvenile Waiver of Counsel. The JDAI Helpdesk also offers practice-based resources, including information on reducing racial disparities, for advocates and policymakers interested in juvenile justice reform.

Gov. Schwarzenegger acts on dozens of bills

Over the weekend Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took action on numerous bills. Semi-automatic pistols sold in the state must employ microstamping technology by 2010. Microstamping imprints unique characters on bullets as they are fired, which gives police more information to solve crimes. However, the governor vetoed three bills aimed at reforming the criminal investigation process by requiring uniform regulations for police line-ups, recording of interrogations, and corroboration of jailhouse informants’ testimony. The governor also signed a bill banning the sale of any items containing phthalates targeted at children under three. Food containing trans fats will now be banned from school cafeterias and vending machines, but chain restaurants will not be required to post nutrition information. Although a bill granting same sex couples marriage equality was vetoed, seven other measures protecting the rights of the LGBT community were signed. The governor also vetoed the legislature’s health care proposal and it seems unlikely that his plan will receive much support from the legislature, meaning health care reform is likely dead for the year in California. For more information, check the roundups of the end of the regular session at the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

UPDATE: Sorry, we should have mentioned that California Progress Report has a great list of articles and op eds about the end of California’s legislative session and many other resources for progressives in California.

Illinois Legislature gives juvenile offenders second chance

Last week the Illinois legislature overrode the governor’s veto of SB 121. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, replaces a provision which had required juveniles convicted of a sex offense to register as adult sex offenders as soon as they turned 17. Under the new law juveniles may also petition to be removed from the juvenile registry if they demonstrate to a judge that they do not pose a risk to the community. This law recognizes that there are differences between adult and juvenile sex offenders and many juvenile sex offenders do not re-offend. Furthermore, it ensures juvenile offenders do not have their lives ruined by what may have been a youthful mistake or “Romeo and Juliet” situation. At the same time, it gives courts the discretion to protect society from violent offenders who do pose a threat by initially trying them as adults or by keeping their names on the juvenile offender registry. Only law enforcement organizations, schools and day cares have access to the juvenile registry in Illinois. [Chicago Daily Herald]

Rhode Island Legislature returns 17-year olds to family court

Rhode Island’s legislature has repealed a law passed earlier this session that moved 17-year olds into the adult criminal justice system. The law was a misguided attempt to cut costs as the state faced a budget shortfall. However, youth housed in adult facilities require extra protection, making the new law more expensive than simply leaving 17-year olds under the jurisdiction of the family court. SB 1411, sponsored by Senator Stephen Alves, essentially repeals the new law. It also controls costs by sending some offenders to alternative treatment programs instead of the state’s juvenile detention facility. SB 1411 was passed by the Senate at the end of the legislature’s regular session, but not by the House. Unfortunately, the change would not apply retroactively, so approximately 50 youth who have been tried or arrested in the months since the law took effect will remain in the adult system. There is a chance the legislature could take up that issue during next year’s session. The governor has not indicated whether he will sign the new bill. Placing children in the adult prison system increases rates of recidivism and can turn nonviolent offenders into hardened criminals. Furthermore, in Rhode Island, the affected youth would have had permanent adult records, limiting their ability to reintegrate into the community. For more information, see CPA’s Juvenile Transfer Reform policy brief and model legislation. [NY TimesProvidence Journal]

Report finds higher recidivism rates for youths in adult prisons

A new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides further evidence that juvenile offenders who are placed in adult prisons are more likely to re-offend than those kept in the juvenile justice system. The study also found that these juveniles were likely to commit more violent crimes after their release. The Campaign for Youth Justice has also just released a report, Jailing Juveniles: The Dangers of Incarcerating Youth in Adult Jails in America” which details the risks young offenders face in adult prison, including higher rates of assault and suicide, and the danger of increased recidivism rates. It also contains suggestions for action at the state level. For more information, see CPA’s Juvenile Transfer Reform policy brief and model legislation. CPA’s Summit on the States will feature a workshop on juvenile justice reform (Sunday, December 9) as well as a breakfast discussion for conference attendees interested in the topic (Saturday, December 8). [Washington Post]