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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | National

National: 2009 | 2010 | 2011 


  • Sex Offender Laws and Registries — Ninth Circuit Panel Finds Retroactive Application of SORNA Unconstitutional: In September 2009, a panel of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that that the retroactive application of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act’s (SORNA) provisions for former youth offenders is punitive and in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court found that the registration and reporting requirements would affect many adults who were sentenced for sex offenses many years ago when they were youth, and that the requirements threaten “to disrupt the stability of [individuals’] lives and to ostracize them from their communities by drawing attention to decades-old sex offenses committed as juveniles that have, until now, remained sealed.” The court referred to the “pervasive and severe” disadvantages of mandatory registration and the historic confidentiality of juvenile proceedings in its reasoning. U.S. v. Juvenile Male, No. 07-30290, September 10, 2009.

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  • Youth in the Adult System — U.S. Supreme Court Prohibits Sentence of Life Without Parole for Youth Who Commit Non-Homicide Offenses: In Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence youth who did not commit homicide to life without the possibility of parole. States must provide youth with a “meaningful opportunity” to turn their lives around and obtain release. The opinion finds the punishment to be cruel and unusual, and states that youths’ developing brains make it impossible to determine if they are beyond rehabilitation. The court once again clarified the dividing age between youth and adulthood as the age of 18. Lastly, the Supreme Court compared sentencing practices in the U.S. to international norms, which decry the use of life without parole as a sentence for youth.

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  • Interrogations and Confessions — U.S. Supreme Court Strengthens Protections for Youth Interrogated by Police: The United States Supreme Court ruled that investigating officers must take the age of suspects into account when deciding whether it is necessary to read them Miranda warnings. The decision demonstrates yet again the court’s recognition that youth are developmentally different from adults. At issue in the case was whether the 13-year-old youth in question was in a “custodial setting” when he was interviewed by police and school officials. Historically, Miranda warning analysis has not taken the age of the suspect into account. The opinion stated that “a child’s age is far ‘more than a chronological fact’” and that “it is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave. Seeing no reason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that commonsense reality, we hold that a child’s age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis.” J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 131 S. Ct. 2394 (2011).
  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Leads to Nationwide Progress in Reducing Use of Detention: Since its launch in the 1990s, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) of the Annie E. Casey Foundation has grown to become the most widely replicated juvenile justice system reform in the nation: by the end of 2012, JDAI will be operating in more than 200 local jurisdictions in 39 states and the District of Columbia. As of 2010, 86 JDAI sites had collectively reduced their average daily population of youth in secure detention by 42 percent. These reductions were notably broad-based, with over 60 percent of sites achieving reductions of one third or more. Much of the reduction in detention has been among youth of color: JDAI sites detained 1,489 fewer youth of color on an average day in 2010 than they did prior to JDAI, a decrease of 39 percent. Sites have achieved these reductions while improving public safety, reporting decreases in indicators of delinquency that average more than 29 percent. JDAI sites also placed 37 percent fewer adjudicated youth into state custody in 2010 than they did prior to implementing JDAI. JDAI sites have achieved significant cost savings by closing detention facilities and avoiding the construction of new or expanded facilities.

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Photo: Envios, under Creative Commons License.