Pioneer in Juvenile Justice Retiring in Vermont

 Ken Schatz, who as commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families pushed for the shut down of the state’s only remaining juvenile prison, is retiring at the end of the month after serving in the post since 2014 and will be replaced by Deputy Commissioner Sean Brown.

Schatz worked with Gov. Phil Scott (R) to send fewer youth to secure settings while simultaneously expanding community-based programs, but also for helping make Vermont the first state in the nation to include 18- and 19-year-olds in the juvenile justice system. Though there are ways to transfer youth into adult court in every state, in Vermont, all teenagers will be considered juveniles in the eyes of the law by 2022.

There is now a push in California to follow Vermont’s lead. A proposal by the Chief Probation Officers of California would reclassify 18- and 19-year-olds as juveniles in the eyes of the law. Under the plan as outlined, youth who are involved with juvenile probation could stay in probation-run facilities until they are 24 years old, past the current maximum age of 21.

All but three states – Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin – consider everyone younger than 18 to be juveniles in the eyes of the law, though all states have rules that enable certain youths to be tried as adults. 

Vermont’s governor, Scott, praised Schatz’s compassion and competence in a difficult role.

“DCF is bigger than most state agencies and involves some of the most complicated and difficult work in state government,” he said, according to Vermont Business Magazine.

On Twitter, Vincent Schiraldi, a national juvenile justice reform leader and co-director of the Columbia university Justice Lab, called Schatz’s successfully closing the juvenile prisons and raising the age of the state’s juvenile justice system to 20 “two remarkable achievements.”

Chronicle of Social Change staff reports

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