Lotta Movement on State Juvenile Bills

Legislative sessions are winding down in several states, and a flurry of juvenile justice-related legislation is now hanging in the balance:

Illinois: Last week, the state senate passed a bill that would move most 17-year-old felons into the juvenile justice system. Currently, all felons above the age of 16 are considered adults as far as the justice system is concerned.

The state moved 17-year-old misdemeanants into the juvenile system in 2010, with no huge strain. In Cook County (Chicago), by far the biggest county system, about 3,500 17-year-olds were referred to the state’s attorney’s office for alleged misdemeanors, and only about 550 had files charged against them.

Those 550 did not do much to impact the county’s probation caseload, since most of them were juveniles that already had contact with probation. There was a “negligible” change in the number of juveniles sent to detention.

Shifting felons into the system will certainly require more resources. The bill will soon hit the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who has made no indication as to whether he plans to sign it.

Massachusetts: From Andy Metzger of the Dorchester Reporter: One step behind Illinois, the State House of Representatives passed a bill that would move 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice systems.

What caught Youth Services Insider‘s eye here is this line from Metzger, presumably reported from background he got on the bill:

If it becomes law, the change will head off a new federal law set to go into effect in August that would require those under 18 to be segregated from the rest of the inmate population at adult corrections facilities, according to lawmakers.

This suggests that Massachusetts may shift its entire treatment of 17-year-olds based at least in part on the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The law does exactly require the separation, as Metzger suggests; rather, it established a set of federal standards that include the separation of juveniles and adults in jails and prisons. And, the standards say, you can’t accomplish that by sticking juveniles into isolation.

States can choose to ignore those standards, but stand to lose a sizable chunk of their federal funds for prisons. It would be significant if Massachusetts became an early believer that the path of least resistance on PREA compliance was just not having juveniles in the adult system in the first place.

Connecticut: CT Mirror reporter Jacqueline Rabe reports that the House has passed a bill that would guarantee juvenile convicts the right to parole after a certain portion of their sentence. Connecticut would be one of the first states to make legislative adjustments in the wake of Miller v. Alabama, last year’s Supreme Court decision that rendered automatic life without parole sentences unconstitutional.

Actually, the way Connecticut’s bill reads, it would offer an earlier chance at parole to any juvenile convicts, not just ones who would have been subject to an LWOP sentence. The bill is headed the Senate’s way, and then perhaps to Gov. Dannel Malloy, who has not decided if he’ll sign it.

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by John Kelly, editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.