People make mistakes. Although young teens and adults make a great majority of mistakes in general, it’s part of the process of growing up. But some mistakes can have lasting consequences and people can find themselves paying for their mistakes 10, 15, or even 50 years later, depending on what they did and how it was handled.
In New Jersey, the state’s juvenile court system tries to place the focus on rehabilitation and retraining rather than simply punishment for juveniles who have been caught in criminal activity. Still, the penalties and various requirements may be enough to keep a minor in the criminal court system for several years, affecting his or her chances for college acceptance, scholarships, career opportunities and even personal advancement.
Now, the state’s legislators are pushing for a series of legal updates that will change how juvenile offenders are tried and sentenced as adults for criminal actions, as well as how their sentences are served.
In June, the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee recommended the final legislative passage of S2003, a bill that seeks to enact these changes. The bill, sponsored by two Democratic state Senators, passed in the Senate 24-10. The Committee passed the bill in a 5-3 vote that was split along party lines and now is up for consideration before the full Assembly.
What Does the Bill Hope to Change?
Bill S2003 introduces several updates to the current juvenile court system, including the following:
• The minimum age for juveniles to be tried as adults will jump from 14 to 15.
• Transfers to adult courts will be blocked for all but the most serious crimes.
• The bill will prohibit juvenile incarceration in adult jails and prisons until at least age 18, in most cases. Currently, the age requirement for imprisonment in an adult jail is 16.
• Juveniles convicted as adults could be allowed to stay in youth facilities until at least 21 in some cases.
• Juveniles who are facing transfers to adult prisons will be represented by the Office of the Public Defender, unless they have already obtained representation from private counsel or a legal services group.
• Juveniles who have been charged with adult crimes, and who are being detailed prior to trial, would be held in juvenile facilities rather than adult jails.
• Prosecutors who want to have a juvenile tried as an adult would have 60 days instead of 30 to make that decision. Any prosecutor who does want a juvenile to be tried as an adult would need to provide a Family Judge a written analysis explaining why such measures are necessary. The judge who receives this waiver motion would be allowed to conduct his or her own investigation, and deny or approve accordingly.
• The bill would set limits on when a juvenile can be held in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement would not be able to be used unless the juvenile is an immediate threat to those around him or to the security of the facility. Solitary confinement should be a last resort, after all other restraining methods have been tried. Right now, solitary confinement use is limited to eight hours a day, and ten days maximum per month. The new limitations on duration of solitary confinement would be set as follows:
No more than 2 consecutive days for 15-year-olds
No more than 3 consecutive days for 16 and 17-year-olds
No more than five consecutive days for anyone 18 and older
Juveniles have the hardest time getting past criminal convictions, especially if the court system works to treat them as adult criminals rather than youthful offenders who need rehabilitation. Hopefully, the passage of the new bill will mark a turning point for the state’s court system and young people.
A New Jersey family lawyer with Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA can represent anyone who has been charged with juvenile offenses. For more information, contact an HCK lawyer today.