Shifts in Juvenile Justice Legislation Spark Debate Among Key Influencers

The shift from the tough-on-crime approach of the 1980s and 1990s has been visible through newly enacted laws (in 23 states) aiming to keep teens out of adult prisons and court systems. This shift is a result of the growing amount of research that suggests placing young people in adult court leads to repeat offenses.
However, some claim that these new laws cause needless delays to prosecution and are an insult to victims. Last Thursday, Diane Rehm and a panel of guests covered this topic and the controversies surrounding it on The Diane Rehm Show.
Guests on the panel included John Schwartz, national correspondent, The New York Times; Liz Ryan, president, Campaign for Youth Justice; and Dan May, district attorney, Colorado Springs.
Throughout the discussion, it became clear that Mr. May opposed this shift in legislation, while Ms. Ryan and Mr. Schwartz supported the shift. This kept the segment interesting and addressed both ends of the spectrum.

Important takeaways from the debate include:

  • The public strongly favors rehabilitation and treatment of young people who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
  • The public rejects automatically prosecuting young people in the adult criminal court and placing young people in adult jails and prisons.
  • The legislation shifts represent the growing belief that young people are capable of rehabilitation and treatment, that when you have them in the juvenile justice system, they can become productive and successful adults
  • The public favors having judges, rather than prosecutors, make the determination about whether or not a child should be going into adult criminal court due to the belief that judges are much more neutral decision makers.
  • The goal of the court system for young people should balance teens being accountable for criminal actions and the possibility for rehabilitation to decrease recidivism.

To listen to the segment in full, visit The Diane Rehm Show website.
For more information on this topic, visit our past reporting on new juvenile justice legislation changes:

Cecilia Bianco is the social and digital communications intern for Prichard Communications and Mac’s List. She contributes to the Reclaiming Futures blog regarding topics of juvenile justice reform and substance abuse prevention.

Updated: February 08 2018