It Could Be a New Era in Juvenile Justice

And We Need to Take Advantage of It

Just Juvenile 6/30/14
Western JDC post

There were two presentations of note in Washington last month addressing juvenile justice reform. They should spark some reform in the way juvenile courts view youth and in the way defenders advocate for their clients. Both conferences were informational sessions for our Supreme Court. The first was a Juvenile Justice Symposium sponsored by the Minority and Justice Commission held on Tuesday (5/20) at the Supreme Court and attended by all the justices. The agenda included a review of adolescent brain research; the applications of this research to sentencing of juveniles; The Symposium is available for viewing on TVW and you may want to pay special attention to the excellent presentation by Marsha Levick explaining that age matters in issues other than just sentencing of juveniles (e.g. Miranda, felony murder, sex offenses and sex offender registration, auto decline). Marsha’s talk starts at the 55th minute of the video and is by far the best segment.

The second forum, Western Region Juvenile Justice Reform Summit, was a conference for Chief Justices and staff from eight western states to learn about innovations developed by the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative and to develop a work plan to incorporate some innovations into their Juvenile Court systems. The agenda included presentations on:

o   By Dr. Fran Lexcen of CSTC

o   (You may want to review the intent language of the new Youth opportunity Act (SB1651) to see how the legislature views the goals of the juvenile justice system.

o   Judicial Colloquies

o   Step-up, a DV treatment program


o   Over 33% of JRA commitments have a history of contact with the child welfare system

o   Communicating with Youth in Court.

o   Over 66% of youth referred to King County Juvenile Court have had involvement with the DSHS Children’s Administration prior to court.

The Washington State breakout sessions brought together Justices, juvenile court judges, researchers, AOC staff and a JCA, prosecutor and defender. An action plan was developed by the group that set out tasks and a timeline for adopting innovations or applying new strategies to address existing concerns. In addition to trying to reduce the over-representation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, the group set goals for addressing the over use of incarceration. The group also made plans to expand the use of developmentally appropriate language by judicial officers in juvenile court and to facilitate the adoption of juvenile defense standards for attorneys representing juvenile in offender and status offender proceedings. Although this conference was not recorded, the timelines for change set by the group will be available soon for distribution.

What does this have to do with you and me?

Now that our Supreme Court has been educated in the ways juveniles are different from adult offenders, we should take this opportunity to raise arguments supported by the research (and cited by the US Supreme Court) to obtain better outcomes for our clients.

As a defense attorney in juvenile court, these conferences may provide an opportunity for you to argue that juvenile offenders are different and they should not be treated by the courts as simply “little” adults. Here are some arguments that you may want to incorporate into your courtroom advocacy:

  1. No incarceration of non-violent youth (status offenders, probation violators, most misdemeanants, warrant returns)
    1. Research shows that incarceration of status offenders and non-violent offenders is not reformative but leads to increased criminal activity and recidivism.
    2. See NY Times Sunday editorial on ending mass incarceration
  2. Better courtroom communication by judicial officers and staff
    1. Research shows that almost all juvenile court forms are written at a college reading level, while most of our clients are reading at a junior high level
  3. No declines to adult court
    1. Research shows that declining an offender to adult court does not reduce recidivism and that the practice is misapplied and does not just target the worst of the worst.
    2. We should always win discretionary declines as a result of the strong support the US Supreme Court provided in repeatedly holding that juveniles are less culpable than adults and more amenable to treatment and reformation
    3. If you have not read Roper, Graham, JDB and Miller, this would be a good time to do it.

Here is an argument you may want to make to your defender agency or contract administrator to ensure better outcomes for your clients

Expand the scope of representation in your contract to include:

o   Washington is one of the few states that does not require attorneys to continue to represent youth in juvenile institutions to ensure that they receive the expected treatment and care

o   See Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)

o   The handicap of a juvenile record is not just a collateral consequence, but is often the harshest consequence of a juvenile adjudication. It poses a barrier for former offenders when they look for employment, housing and educational opportunities.