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.
These reforms come in response from advocates who state that New Jersey still operates an outdated and ineffective juvenile parole and sentencing scheme that relies too heavily on incarceration and fails to release juveniles into the community once the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 transfer the responsibility of parole decisions from the State Parole Board to a panel made up of at least two members of the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) and one member of the State Parole Board. The JJC members of the panel would be designated by the Executive Director of the JJC and a member of the State Parole Board would be designated by the Chairman of the State Parole Board.
“For years, there has been little space for nuance and circumstance in the American justice system. This historic 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 system.”
Under the bill, also sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer), the panel is responsible for making determinations regarding parole eligibility, supervision, revocation and post-incarceration supervision for juveniles. The panel 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. And any decision concerning parole made by the panel would be required to be unanimous.
Current law requires a juvenile to receive a term of post incarceration supervision equal to one-third of the sentence of incarceration. Under the bill, the panel would be given the discretion to impose a term of post-incarceration supervision, but only if it is deemed necessary to effectuate the juvenile’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The term of supervision could not exceed six months, unless the panel deems a longer term is necessary to effectuate the juvenile’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The longer term could not exceed one year.
Additionally, it would require the JJC to establish a program to collect, record, and analyze certain data regarding juveniles who were sentences to a term of incarceration. The JJC 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 the Senate by a vote of 30-9.