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Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation 2011-2015

Published Oct 12, 2015, Sarah Alice Brown

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In the past five years, juvenile justice reform legislation in the United States has grown at a remarkable pace. The recent shift in juvenile justice policy marks a clear departure from laws enacted 20 years ago.

After a dramatic increase in serious juvenile crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, legislatures in nearly every state passed laws to hold more young offenders accountable through adult sentencing options. Yet by 2015, state after state continues to re-examine its policies and rebalance approaches to juvenile justice to produce more effective responses to youth crime and improve overall justice systems.

Today, juvenile justice reform has become a largely bipartisan issue as lawmakers work together to develop new policies to align sound fiscal responsibility, community safety and better outcomes for youth. New legislative reforms reflect an interest in developmentally appropriate approaches to more evidence-based methods and cost-effective alternatives to incarceration. There also now exists an abundance of research that is available to lawmakers and the field on adolescent development—that includes the latest neuro, social and behavioral science that distinguishes juveniles from adult offenders. 

Recent trends in juvenile justice legislation across the country represent a significant new direction to broadly reform justice systems. This report highlights juvenile justice state laws and trends during the past five years, from 2011 to 2015. Specific trends have emerged to:

  • Restore jurisdiction to the juvenile court.
  • Divert youth from the system.
  • Reform detention.
  • Shift resources from incarceration to community-based alternatives.
  • Pro­vide strong public defense for youth.
  • Address racial and ethnic disparities in justice systems.
  • Respond more effectively to the mental health needs of young offenders.
  • Improve re-entry and aftercare programs for youth.

This report was prepared under a partnership project of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Criminal Justice Program in Denver, Colo., and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Chicago, Ill. NCSL gratefully acknowledges the MacArthur Foundation’s support and assistance to NCSL and state legislatures for the past 10 years.

Learn more at www.ncsl.org.

Categories: Annual conference, Initiative materials, Reforms/Trends

Tags: 2015 Conf

Uploaded Oct 12, 2015


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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.

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