Renee’s Round-up: Juvenile Justice

Over the last decade, numerous studies have shown that treating youth like mini-adults when it comes to incarceration is not only ineffective, but also counterproductive. These “tough-on-crime” practices, like trying children in adult courts, imprisoning them alongside adult offenders, or making them endure solitary confinement, have long-term mental health effects and often lead to increased rates of recidivism and greater overall cost to society. For this round-up, we have compiled recent news and research on juvenile justice reform, from Congress to the courts to the advocacy community.

A recent survey by the Youth First Initiative found that 73% of Americans believe that youth can be taught to take responsibility for their actions without resorting to incarceration. Youth First is a new national advocacy campaign to end youth incarceration.

The United States is the only developed nation that sentences children to die in prison, but that may be changing. Several states and counties are scrambling to comply with a January Supreme Court ruling on the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana that requires the ban on mandatory minimum juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences to be enforced retroactively. The decision could impact up to 2,100 inmates currently serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed as juveniles, according to the Sentencing Project. In the 2012 Miller v. Alabama case, the Supreme Court deemed life without parole “cruel and unusual” when applied to juveniles as a mandatory minimum. Some states have opted to abolish JLWOP altogether, while others may apply retroactivity by imposing lesser sentences, offering re-sentencing hearings, or restoring parole eligibility for those already imprisoned. The number of new JLWOP sentences since the 2012 Miller decision has fallen sharply.

Legislatures in several states, including Colorado and Kentucky, are considering reforms that would prohibit solitary confinement for incarcerated youth. The movement to end youth solitary confinement gained momentum when President Obama issued an executive order in January banning solitary confinement for juveniles in all federal prisons.

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New York advocates gather in Albany to ask lawmakers to “Raise the Age”

Every Child Matters on Long Island, New York visited the State Capitol in Albany to lobby state lawmakers in support of Raise the Age laws, which would end the practice of prosecuting all youth ages over age 16 as adults.

The re-authorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)—which expired in 2007—stalled in the Senate last month after Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton objected to a provision in the bill that would limit judges’ ability to lock up juveniles for “status offences” (such as truancy or running away from home). Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has said that he hopes to work with Sen. Cotton to resolve the issue and get the bill passed quickly. The re-authorization would strengthen protections for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, ensuring that they are not housed with adult offenders and requiring states to address racial and ethnic disparities within their systems.