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State Trends: Legislative Changes from 2005 to 2010 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System published by the Campaign for Youth Justice provides the latest information about youth in the adult justice system. The first half of the report explains the dangers to youth, public safety, and the overall prosperity of our economy and future generations.  The second half of the report looks at legislative reforms aimed at removing youth from the criminal justice system by examining state juvenile justice legislation compiled by the National Juvenile Defender Center and the National Conference of State Legislatures. The legislative scan identified 15 states that have changed their state laws and eight more with active reform efforts underway in four categories:

 

  • Removing youth from adult jails and prisons
  • Raising the age of juvenile Court Jurisdiction
  • Changing transfer laws to keep more youth in juvenile court
  • Rethinking sentencing laws for youth

 

Virginia was profiled in the report for recent changes protecting youth from incarceration with adults and changing its “once an adult, always an adult” law.  The report can be found here.

The report’s release was covered by USA Today on March 16, 2011.

There is a nationwide trend towards prosecuting fewer teenagers in adult courts.  This change has been prompted by recent developments in psychology and neurology as well as data showing that the trial and incarceration of youth as adults results in higher recidivism rates and other negative repercussions.  The New York Times reported on this trend this past weekend. Will Virginia follow suit?

The last day of the 2011 General Assembly session is Saturday.  Thank you for your advocacy efforts on behalf of Virginia’s youth throughout the session.  The Don’t Throw Away the Key Campaign was instrumental in bringing attention to the unfairness and ineffectiveness of the transfer system and preventing further erosion of judicial discretion. A very bad bill that would have resulted in hundreds more youth being tried as adults in Virginia was defeated. Two positive bills that would have improved our system for trying youth as adults passed the Senate but were ultimately unable to make it out of the House

Below is an update on the specific bills Don’t Throw Away the Key tracked:

  • SB 914 (McDougle) was defeated in the Senate Courts Committee.  This bill would have made it easier to try more youth as adults in Virginia and further limited judicial discretion over this very important decision.  This bill was recommended by the Virginia State Crime Commission to the General Assembly.  Its defeat is a huge accomplishment and will prevent many youth from entering the adult criminal justice system. Congratulations on this great achievement!
  • SB 822 (Edwards) passed the Senate but was ultimately unable to pass the House Courts Committee. This bill would have given youth the right to appeal a prosecutor’s decision to try them as an adult. Thank you to all of you who supported this bill by making phone calls, sending emails, or attending a hearing. A special thank you to former Director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice Barry Green for emphatically testifying in support of this bill in the House Courts subcommittee.
  • SB 914 (Howell) passed the Senate unanimously but was pulled by the patron before a vote was taken in the House. This bill would have allowed Circuit Court judges to grant youth a juvenile adjudication upon successful completion of probationary terms set by the judge.  The fact that this bill was not voted down in the House will make it easier to potentially bring it again in the future.
  • HB 1980 (Greason) never received a hearing in the House. This bill would have expanded the categories of automatic transfer and prosecutorial certification by adding conspiracies and attempts to commit the violent juvenile felonies listed within each category.

Thank you for your continued support of these reforms! Be on the lookout for more opportunities to take action in the future!

There were several successes for youth in the Virginia Senate thanks to everyone who called or emailed Senators and attended committee hearings!

Both bills that could significantly improve Virginia’s system of trying youth as adults passed the Senate.  SB 822 (Edwards) would allow circuit court judges to review a prosecutor’s decision to certify cases to adult court — just as they can now review decisions of juvenile court judges.  SB 948 (Howell) would allow circuit court judges to give youth the opportunity to earn a juvenile delinquency adjudication upon successful completion of terms and conditions set by the judge. These bills will now move to the House of Delegates where the committee process will start over again.  Be on the lookout for opportunities to advocate for the passage of these bills!

In addition to the passage of the two bills above, you prevented the passage of a bill that would have made it easier for youth to be tried as adults and increased the number of youth that would face trial in adult courts and possible adult criminal penalties. SB 914 (McDougle) would have expanded the categories of automatic transfer and prosecutorial certification by adding second or subsequent acts of violence to the list of offenses that may be automatically transferred and by adding gang participation and second or subsequent drug offenses to the list of offenses that may be certified.  Your actions have saved so many of Virginia’s youth!

Thank you for your continued advocacy on behalf of Virginia’s youth! There will be more opportunities to take action in the coming month!

It’s only day one, and bills are already being heard and acted upon.  So far, 4 bills have been introduced on the topic of juvenile transfer.

We support:

SB 822 (Edwards) would allow circuit court judges to review a prosecutor’s decision to certify cases to adult court — just as they can now review decisions of juvenile court judges.

SB 948 (Howell) would allow circuit court judges to give youth the opportunity to earn a juvenile delinquency adjudication upon successful completion of terms and conditions set by the judge.

We oppose:

SB 914 (McDougle) would expand the categories of automatic transfer and prosecutorial certification by adding second or subsequent acts of violence to the list of offenses that may be automatically transferred and by adding gang participation and second or subsequent drug offenses to the list of offenses that may be certified.

HB 1980 (Greason) would expand the categories of automatic transfer and prosecutorial certification by adding conspiracies and attempts to commit the violent juvenile felonies listed within each category.

Stay tuned!  We will likely need your help in the next few days and weeks letting policymakers know about the costs and benefits of these bills to our youth and our communities.

This morning, the Virginian Pilot once again weighed in on trying youth as adults. 

The Editorial Board endorsed the Crime Commission’s proposal to give circuit court judges more options when it comes to making decisions about a youth’s future and suggested that some youth need a structured environment and training, not a felony conviction that will make it difficult for them to lead successful lives in their communities. 

In the words of the editorial, “If we lock them up, don’t offer job training or counseling, don’t teach them to read and write and don’t give them reason to change, they probably won’t.”

Click here to read the full editorial.

THANK YOU to everyone who attended last week’s Crime Commission meeting!

Here is a quick summary of what happened:

Unfortunately, the Crime Commission did not endorse Sen. Edwards’ bill, which would let youths appeal the prosecutor’s decision to try them in Circuit Court (adult court).  We supported that bill.

 The Crime Commission also chose to endorse a bill that would increase the number of youth who can be tried as adults both automatically and by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s decision. We opposed that bill.

The one bright spot is that the Crime Commission endorsed allowing Circuit Court judges to give youth a juvenile adjudication instead of an adult felony conviction — after they have met the conditions of their sentence.

What’s next:

The Crime Commission’s actions aren’t the final word!  These recommendations will likely be introduced as bills in the 2011 General Assembly, which convenes in January.  We’ll keep you up to date on the bills as they make their way through the legislature and will likely call on you to give your input to policymakers.

Stay tuned!

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