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Reforming New Jersey’s Approach to Juvenile Justice

As a founding member of Youth Justice New Jersey, the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest has advanced a number of initiatives to improve New Jersey’s juvenile justice system. Most recently, we worked with the Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic at Rutgers Law School, ACLU-NJ, New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, and Juvenile Law Center to draft and advocate for a bill that significantly reforms juvenile sentencing and parole. The percentage of youth serving their maximum sentence has steadily increased in New Jersey over the past 10 years, and alarming numbers of young people who have been released from custody are reincarcerated because of technical parole violations. The bill is intended to reverse these destructive trends while also ensuring public safety.

On January 20, 2020, Governor Murphy signed the bill into law, after its passage by the Legislature on January 13. The new law brings New Jersey’s Juvenile Code in line with best practices around the country by creating more transparency and predictability in the juvenile sentencing and parole process, promoting incentives for positive youth behavior, and supporting the juvenile’s eventual reintegration into society. The new law will improve conditions for juveniles in a number of important ways:

  • The Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) will now share responsibility with the parole board for making parole decisions and establishing conditions for parole, giving youth a meaningful opportunity for early release.
  • Juveniles will no longer be subjected to onerous financial penalties, which often inhibited their successful reentry.
  • The sentencing laws will limit when a juvenile may be incarcerated and ensure that incarceration is used only as a last resort.
  • The mandatory supervision period formerly imposed on all incarcerated youth after they completed their term in custody will now be discretionary, time-limited, and used only to support a juvenile’s rehabilitation and reintegration.
  • The standards for granting or revoking parole are now more objective, transparent, and geared toward the juvenile’s successful return to the community.
  • The JJC will now collect and report on data about the incarcerated youth population and what happens to them during out-of-home placements.

The new legislation promises to reduce crime and recidivism by giving young people the opportunities and support they need to move on with their lives.

Reforming New Jersey’s Approach to
                    Juvenile Justice