State of the States: Here's What's Moving in 2015
By Najja Quail, CFYJ Legal Intern
As the rates of juvenile arrests continue to decline, state policymakers are taking advantage of the opportunity to rethink the way we deal with youth involved with the adult criminal justice system. This legislative session, several bills have been introduced in various states to: 1) raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction; 2) examine the ways in which youth are transferred to the adult system; and 3) remove youth from pretrial detention.
Missouri, New York, and Texas, all have bills currently being reviewed by the legislature to raise the statutory age for which youth in these states can be automatically prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system. Connecticut is trying to raise the minimum age of transfer from 14 to 15 years of age while Vermont proposes that all cases involving youth under 18 originate in the juvenile court, giving Family Court judges the ability to waive those cases to the criminal court. There is also push to make changes with regard to who decides whether a youth will be transferred to the criminal court, and where that youth is housed pending transfer decisions. Utah’s SB 167 does several things to reduce the number of youth entering the adult system. Utah’s proposed bill limits the number of offenses in which a child can be “direct filed” in the adult system among other significant shifts in burden and changes in certification language.
Florida, a state notorious for its high number of youth involved in the adult system due to unfettered prosecutorial discretion, has several bills (HB 195, HB 783, SB 444, SB 498, and SB 1082) currently in the Legislature that would limit the number of youth automatically transferred to the adult system. The State of Maryland has bills in both the House and Senate (HB 618 and SB 172) that would require youth to be held in juvenile rather than adult facilities while they await a transfer determination.
In addition to the abovementioned bills, there are many states looking at other aspects of juvenile justice reform, thus making it more likely that youth in the adult system will have a place to go and receive appropriate rehabilitative services if these bills are successful. State legislative sessions end anywhere from late April to early June so there is plenty of time to get involved. To receive information on what’s happening in your state, please join our email list to receive timely updates. You can sign up here.