On Friday, Gary R. Herbert, Utah’s Governor since 2009, officially proclaimed October “Juvenile Justice Awareness Month”, acknowledging that “the juvenile justice system is best equipped to work with teenagers in making meaningful changes that maximize opportunities for youth offenders to realize their full potential.”
This proclamation is part of a movement of positive changes for youth justice in Utah. Indeed earlier this year, in its 2015 general session, the state’s legislature passed a bill that reduced the number of felonies for which 16 year-old kids would face Utah district (adult) court jurisdiction.
One of Governor Herbert’s stated priorities being education, he regularly calls for youth to be agents “for positive change”. Accordingly, by keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system and giving them the tools to rehabilitate and turn their lives around, they are more likely to become agents for positive change.
The Utah Governor’s proclamation is one of many resolutions and declarations that have been passed all over the country, showing an increasing and widespread support for juvenile justice reform; support that we hope one day will fully prevent youths from being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.
Despite this important step forward, Utah still has a long way to go, as it is for example one of the few states still ignoring or refusing to comply with federal guidelines intended to prevent sexual assault in prisons. The Prison Rape Elimination Act is a key piece of legislation for guaranteeing children’s basic safety in prison, since one of its 4 main requirements is to keep youth under 18 strictly separated from adults. However, for “budgetary” reasons, Utah has so far refused to apply this federal law.
We can hope that Utah will go further on the path towards youth justice and adopt more important reforms soon.
Written by Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern