The Supreme Court held 6-3 in Montgomery v. Louisiana that juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison without parole before Miller v. Alabama (2012) was decided may have their sentences reviewed. In Miller v. Alabama the Court held that a juvenile may not be sentenced to life in prison without parole “absent consideration of the juvenile’s special circumstances in light of the principles and purposes of juvenile sentencing.” The Court suggested that rather than relitigating sentences states may allow relevant juvenile offenders to be eligible for parole.      

Each year, millions of students are removed from their classrooms for disciplinary reasons, mostly for minor discretionary offenses. Disciplinary removals may be appropriate in situations in which a student poses an immediate safety risk to himself/herself or others on a school campus. But when such removals are administered for minor misconduct, they are often detrimental to students’ academic and behavioral progress. Research, including the groundbreaking Breaking Schools’ Rules study conducted by The Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, demonstrates that exclusionary disciplinary actions increase a student’s likelihood of falling behind academically, dropping out of school, and coming into contact with the juvenile justice system. A disproportionately large percentage of disciplined students are youth of color, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. In response, states across the country are passing legislation that limits the number of students who are removed from school for disciplinary reasons and provides more supportive responses to misbehavior. In 2014, the CSG Justice Center also released the School Discipline Consensus Report, which provides state and local government officials with a comprehensive roadmap for overhauling their approach to school discipline.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, or JJDPA, contains provisions that limit detention, mandate service provision and provide guidelines for status offenders who violate a valid court order, or VCO. And over the past several years, many states have passed additional legislation to decriminalize status offenses—crimes that are only illegal because of the offender’s age. A wide range of behaviors may be considered status offenses (laws related to status offenses vary by state), including truancy, running away from home, curfew violations, being beyond a parent or guardian’s control, and underage consumption of alcohol or tobacco. Some states have integrated status offender changes into larger juvenile justice reform legislation.

A first-of-its-kind report released today by The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center found that most incarcerated youth do not have access to the same educational services as their peers in the community, and little accountability exists to ensure educational standards are met in lock-up. The report, “Locked Out: Improving Educational and Vocational Outcomes for Incarcerated Youth,” reveals that despite spending between $100,000 to $300,000 per incarcerated child in secure facilities, only 13 states provide all incarcerated youth with access to the same types of educational services that students have in the community. Meanwhile, only nine states offer community-equivalent vocational services to all kids in lock-up.

CSG Midwest

Illinois lawmakers say a series of legislative reforms this year will help “right-size” the state’s juvenile justice system. The bills were signed into law in July. Under SB 1560, minors will not be committed to Department of Juvenile Justice facilities for misdemeanor offenses, and minors cannot be detained in a county jail for “status offenses.”

CSG Midwest

A year ago, officials from all three branches of South Dakota government began taking a close, critical look at the state’s juvenile justice system. The working group didn’t like what it saw. “What we found is that South Dakota was an outlier nationally,” Sen. Alan Solano says. “While juvenile commitments were declining,” he adds, “South Dakota had the second-highest incarceration rate in the country in 2011, a rate of 385 youth per 100,000.” Further, that high commitment rate was not connected to a correspondingly high rate of violent crime, and South Dakota’s juvenile offenders were staying longer in out-of-home placements than they had in the past. Those placements were costly (anywhere from $41,000 to $144,000 per bed); were often for misdemeanors, probation violations and status offenses (such as truancy and underage drinking); and were not necessarily effective in treating young people (community-based supervision tends to yield better results).

CSG Midwest
Two years after passing milestone legislation to reform the state’s criminal justice system for adults, lawmakers in South Dakota have changed the state’s approach to managing and treating juvenile offenders. SB 73 was signed into law in March. Its goals are to cut costs, invest more in proven intervention programs and reduce recidivism among young people. 
 

In 2012 in Miller v. Alabama the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states may not mandate that juvenile offenders be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  In Montgomery v. Louisiana the Court will decide whether Miller is retroactive; that is, whether it should apply to those convicted before the case was decided. 

This case will be decided next term (by the end of June 2016).  The Court agreed to hear a case raising the exact same issue, also from Louisiana, this term.   Toca v. Louisiana was dismissed when George Toca was released from prison after pleading guilty to two counts of armed robbery in exchange for his murder conviction being vacated.   

The CSG Justice Center, in partnership with Texas A&M University, released a study commissioned by Texas state leaders interested in understanding the impact of the state's reforms of its juvenile justice system. This unprecedented study compares the impact on youth under community supervision versus incarceration in state correctional facilities. Closer to Home: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms, which draws on an unprecedented dataset of 1.3 million individual case records spanning eight years, shows youth incarcerated in state-run facilities are 21 percent more likely to be rearrested than those who remain under supervision closer to home. When they do reoffend, data show that youth released from state-run secure facilities are three times more likely to commit a felony than youth who are under community supervision.

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—Strict adherence to the American principle of separation of powers should not stop members of the three branches of state government from coming together to improve child welfare and juvenile justice services to vulnerable children. That was the feeling at a panel discussion Aug. 13 at the CSG National and CSG West Annual Conference moderated by Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta.

Pages