Home News Center New Jersey Bill to Reform Youth Transfer, Waiver and Confinement Policies

New Jersey Bill to Reform Youth Transfer, Waiver and Confinement Policies

September 15, 2015
Zoe Schein

Early in August, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took an important step in signing into law a bill S2003/A4299, which recognizes the critical need for age-appropriate treatment and access to rehabilitation for youth. The bill was supported by the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition, an NJJN member, which is pursuing system-wide reforms of New Jersey’s juvenile justice system. 

“This legislation represents a much-needed paradigm shift in how New Jersey addresses juvenile delinquency issues," said LaShawn Warren, vice president and general counsel of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the coordinator for the multi-member coalition. "It moves the state closer to a rehabilitative model that appropriately factors in developmental considerations of youth and ensures progress toward racial fairness in the state juvenile justice system.”

The changes in this bill primarily target two dangerous practices employed by the youth justice system: processing and confining youth through the adult system and using solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure. Studies have shown that youth exposed to adult confinement facilities experience higher rates of abuse, mental illness, and suicide. Youth exposed to solitary confinement similarly experience spikes in mental illness rates and suicide risk, as well as negative impacts to their physical health, social development, and education.

“The historic reforms to New Jersey's juvenile justice system just signed into law will make us fairer, smarter, and safer. While there remains more work to do, these changes are a significant step towards making the ‘justice’ in our juvenile justice system a reality,” said Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey, and a Coalition partner.

The bill makes a number of changes, including:

  • raising the minimum age that a young person can be prosecuted as an adult from 14 to 15, narrowing the list of offenses for which a youth can be waived to adult court, and amending the standard governing waiver decisions to reflect the continuing maturation of young people through their mid-twenties;
  • eliminating the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure in juvenile facilities and detention centers, and placing time limits on the use of solitary confinement for reasons other than punishment, such as safety concerns;
  • ensuring due process—including notice, representation by counsel, and a hearing—before a young person confined in a juvenile facility can be transferred to an adult prison; and
  • creating a presumption that youth waived for adult prosecution will be held in juvenile detention centers rather than adult jails while awaiting trial and that youth sentenced in the adult system will presumptively be held in youth facilities until the age of 21 and may remain there beyond that time at the discretion of the state Juvenile Justice Commission.

“New Jersey has taken a small, but important step in protecting our young people from the trauma of the adul criminal justice system,” said Jose Andreas Rosario of the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus

“The bill protects youth in the juvenile justice system from solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons, which is huge,” said Kathy Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus and recent alumnus of NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute. “We’ve seen the science on what confinement can do to the brain, and frankly, it’s beyond traumatic.”

Still, advocates pointed out, these reforms can be taken further.

“The bill doesn’t protect youth who are incarcerated in the adult system,” said Wright. “All of these young people’s lives matter. So it’s great to raise the age of waiver, for example, but the majority of youth waived to the adult system are 16 to 17 years of age. There’s more work to be done.”

“We need to be reminded that we are still dealing with children who are still in their formative years, who don’t always act out rationally, and who rely on adults to guide them into adulthood. Guiding them into prisons does more harm than good, to the youth, their families, their communities, and society-at-large,” said Rosario.

Read the full text of the bill.

Download our policy platform on youth in the adult system.

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