Trenton – Landmark legislation spearheaded by Senator Nellie Pou, which would integrate several reforms to the juvenile justice system concerning incarceration and parole, cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee today.
These reforms come in response from advocates who state that New Jersey still operates an outdated and ineffective juvenile parole and sentencing scheme that relies too heavily on incarceration and fails to release juveniles into the community once the rehabilitative goals of the Juvenile Code have been satisfied.
“This bill is meant to build a fairer, more just and less racially biased juvenile justice system,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen/Passaic). “It took over two years of incredibly hard and tireless work by advocates, judges, organizations and experts and I am grateful to have worked alongside so many thoughtful and dedicated people because without them these landmark reforms could not have been possible. Currently, if a juvenile gets caught in our antiquated justice system they can spend decades trying to get out. This bill makes it less likely for a juvenile caught in adolescence to spend a lifetime in the justice system, having a major impact on the individual’s life, their family and the entire community.”
The bill, S-48, would incorporate the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) principles into the Code of Juvenile Justice. Among other things, these principles would include placing restrictions on incarcerating juveniles only when they pose a substantial threat to public safety, utilizing objective risk-assessment instruments to replace subjective decision-making processes for incarceration and promote collaboration between juvenile court officials, probation agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, schools, community organizations and advocates.
“For years, there has been little space for nuance and circumstance in the American justice system. My landmark legislation will bring new and much needed attention to the individual, the specific incident and their particular situation when determining sentencing and parole,” said Senator Pou. “This is going to give the next generations of youth the chance to genuinely learn from their mistakes rather than being subjected to rigorous rules that lead to life-long battles with the justice system.”
The JDAI model was created by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a pilot program to reduce confinement of court-involving youth. It is now operating in nearly 300 counties nationwide.
Under the bill, also sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer), the responsibility of parole decisions would be transferred from the State Parole Board to the Juvenile Justice Commission (JCC). The JJC would be directed to determine the conditions of parole and to ensure that the conditions are appropriately tailored to the juvenile and the least restrictive necessary for the juvenile’s successful return to the community. Juveniles who are sentenced to a term of incarceration would be immediately eligible for parole.
The bill would also require the JCC to establish a program to collect, record, and analyze certain data regarding juveniles who were sentences to a term of incarceration. The JCC must publish on its website the criteria that are used to determine whether a juvenile is granted parole and to provide this information to every juvenile who is sentenced to a term of incarceration.
The bill was released from committee by a vote of 8-2-2.