Just days ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation that will usher in significant modifications to New Jersey’s existing Juvenile Justice System. Specifically, Bill S2003 will alter the guidelines that govern juvenile trial procedure, sentencing, and detention.
On Monday, August 10th, Governor Christie approved the aforementioned legislation, the provisions of which will take effect in 7 months. The bill is the result of years of work and research among the bill’s sponsors, who consulted with retired judges, juvenile justice experts, county prosecutors, the Attorney General’s Office, and members of the New Jersey State Bar Association during its construction.
Among the most significant of these changes is the minimum age at which juveniles can be tried as adults and confined in adult detention facilities. Formerly, juveniles as young as 14 could be tried as adults if they were accused of particularly egregious crimes and the State deemed it appropriate. Now, the age requirement has been increased to 15.
Similarly, juveniles at the age of 16 could be incarcerated in adult facilities under previous law. Now, juveniles must be at least 18 to be confined in adult detention centers and in some cases, may not be transferred to adult facilities until the age of 21. Further, juvenile defendants who are to be tried as adults will be detained in juvenile, as opposed to adult facilities.
As it stands, prosecutors have 30 days to determine whether or not they will request that a juvenile be tried as an adult. Per the law that was just enacted, the State will now have double the time (60 days) to make that determination, after which they must submit a written explanation for the request to a Family Court Judge who will conduct his or her own evaluation.
Finally, Bill S2003 alters the State’s policy regarding solitary confinement for juveniles who are incarcerated. Essentially, solitary confinement is now to be used as a last resort in cases wherein the juvenile presents an immediate threat to the safety of others or the security of the facility. In addition, instances involving solitary confinement must be thoroughly documented, and officials must abide by the following time limitations:
- Maximum of 2 consecutive days for 15-year-olds
- Maximum of 3 consecutive days for 16 and 17-year-olds
- Maximum of 5 consecutive days for those 18 or older
Lawmakers say that the goal of these reforms is to prevent the vicious cycle of crime and recurring incarceration by concentrating their efforts on the rehabilitation of young offenders. As a defense attorney, I consider it of paramount importance to protect the rights of my young clients and provide them with the best chance of a successful future.
For additional information related to this issue, access the following article: Christie OKs Juvenile Justice Reforms