Youth Justice Legal Framework

By 13 Aralık 2022 No Comments

Young people deserve legal protection and experienced lawyers to challenge unconstitutional laws, challenge unfair policies or practices, and hold systems accountable for harms to youth and their families. And in Oregon, the state has corrected its course on juvenile justice, withdrawing an initiative passed by voters more than two decades ago in the “hard crime” era, which required adult prosecutions for anyone 15 or older charged with certain crimes. Oregon Ballot Measures 11 (1994). See Marion County, Oregon, “Measure 11,” See also Noelle Crombie, “Oregon Senate Aprises Sweeping Juvenile Justice Reforms,” Oregonian, April 16, 2019,; and Daniel Nichanian, “Oregon Overhauls Its Youth Justice System,” The Appeal, July 25, 2019, In the years that followed, Oregon had the second highest juvenile incarceration rate in the country. Corrections Rankings, U.S. News & World Report, accessed December 5, 2019 A 2018 report showed that the measure was three times more likely to affect black youth — who were charged five times more than their percentage of the population for these charges — and that Latino and Native American youth were also disproportionately represented in the system.

Roberta Phillip-Robbins and Ben Scissors, Youth and Measure 11 in Oregon (Salem, OR: Oregon Council on Civil Rights, 2018), 28, In July, Governor Kate Brown signed a bipartisan juvenile justice reform bill that, among other things, eliminates the practice of automatically prosecuting 15- to 17-year-olds as adults accused of serious crimes such as rape, murder, robbery and assault. Oregon SB 1008 (2019),; and Casey Leins, “Oregon Reforms Its Juvenile Justice System,” U.S. News & World Report, July 23, 2019, The law, which entered into force on January 1, 2020, creates the presumption that these minors will be brought before a juvenile court and requires prosecutors to request a hearing before their cases can be heard in an adult court. Oregon SB 1008 (2019). The lack of due process and constitutional due process in the juvenile justice system – and the potential for children to deprive themselves of liberty for long periods of detention, even in juvenile facilities – were highlighted in the landmark 1967 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. In the Gault case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution requires that juveniles accused of delinquency in juvenile court enjoy the same due process rights as adults accused of felonies, including the right to counsel and the right to confront prosecution witnesses. According to Gault, the Supreme Court granted additional constitutional rights to minors, including the right to have the charges against them proven beyond doubt and the right to double jeopardy.

In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles do not have the right to jury trials in juvenile courts, but several states have chosen juveniles as the right to a jury trial. Now, federal and state lawmakers are rushing to completely shake up juvenile justice. If this regressive trend is not stopped, the consequences will be catastrophic – not only for an entire generation of young people in our country sentenced to prison, but for all of us who remain with a more violent society. Since the 1990s, juvenile delinquency rates have declined steadily, but the harsh sentences of the 1990s remain in place in many state laws. With this change, important distinctive and rehabilitative approaches to juvenile justice have been lost due to the more serious consequences of criminal justice intervention. We defend the constitutional right to due process and access to legal representation. We fight for racial and economic justice for youth and their families. Since 1975, the Juvenile Law Center has worked to ensure that juveniles involved in juvenile justice have strong and meaningful rights, access to education and developmental treatment, and opportunities to become healthy and productive adults.

The Juvenile Justice Centre works for a world that affirms the unique and developmental qualities of young people, ensures fair and equitable treatment, and guarantees opportunities for success in adulthood. Proponents hope the overhaul will help the state in its efforts to detain the long-struggling juvenile justice system, which is still feeling the effects of Proposition 21, a “tough on crime” initiative passed in 2000 thanks in large part to the efforts of the California District Attorneys Association. Caiola, “substantial or symbolic?” 2019; and Evan Sernoffsky and Joaquin Palomino, “Locked Up, Left Behind,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 2019, From 2003 to 2018, more than 11,500 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 were tried in adult court under the auspices of Proposition 21, with the effects felt particularly by Black and Latino communities. Sernoffsky and Palomino, “Locked Up”, 2019. Over the past decade, black and Latino youth accounted for 86 percent of juveniles tried in the state`s adult courts — and in Los Angeles County, it was 96 percent. However, beginning in 2013, California reviewed its system and passed a series of reforms banning unconditional life sentences for juveniles, reversing provisions in Proposition 21 that allow prosecutors to file juvenile cases directly in adult court, and prohibiting minors under the age of 16 from being fully tried in adult court. Proposition 21 was widely adopted in response to a perceived “crime wave” in the mid-1990s, which had already ended by the time the legislation came into force. Between 1980 and 2016, arrests in the state among teens decreased by 84 percent, while for other age groups, they declined much more slowly or even increased. Jill Tucker and Joaquin Palomino, “Vanishing Violence,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 2019, As a result, juvenile detention centres remained largely empty. A 2018 investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle found that 39 of the 43 facilities were half-full and some were nearly empty — like Nevada County, where five teenagers were held in a 60-person building.

The new Department of Youth and Community Restoration, which is expected to be established in July 2020, will include a training institute for correctional officers and an internal supervision department. West, “As Newsom Rethinks Juvenile Justice,” 2019; and Jazmine Ulloa, “California Probation Chiefs Brace for Changes to the Juvenile Justice System,” Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2019, Supporters mostly welcomed the decision, noting that “when systems are connected to organizations that focus on health, healing, and a link to resources that can help. They are able to do a better job. Sammy Caiola, “Is Governor Gavin Newsom`s Juvenile Law Reform Substantial or Symbolic? Experts dis-le`s a wait-and-see approach”, Capital Public Radio, 24 January 2019, However, some have warned that the move must be more than “just a change of letterhead.” Ibid. The reorganization is supported by the implementation in January 2020 of a 2018 law that sets the minimum age for prosecution at 12, including in cases brought before juvenile courts, except in cases of murder and rape. California SB 439 (2018), Juvenile justice has its roots at the beginning of the century, when child abuse became a focal point of the progressive movement. By 1925, almost all states had passed laws providing for separate trials for juveniles focused on prevention and rehabilitation, rather than retaliation and punishment. Other places on the West Coast implemented juvenile justice reforms in 2019. King County, Seattle, Washington, continued its efforts to reduce the number of juvenile incarcerated to zero.

King County, Road Map to Zero Youth Detention (Seattle, WA: King County Department of Health, 2018), See also King County, Washington, “King County Zero Youth Detention: Taking a Public Health Approach,” September 24, 2019, There have already been successes: a 25% decrease in the number of minors detained on a given day between 2017 and 2019, and a 24% decrease in the total number of juvenile detentions. King County, “Zero Youth Detention Dashboard,” database (Seattle, WA: King County Department of Health),