POSITION IN BRIEF:

Support of a juvenile justice system that has as its primary purpose the rehabilitation, safety and well being of the offender. Support of a system that promotes the juvenile’s understanding of the harm done and his/her responsibility to make amends to the victim and the community, emphasizes alternatives to detention or commitment, and promotes the protection of the community and the juvenile’s successful reentry into the community.

POSITION: (Adopted 2001)

The League believes a juvenile justice system should include the following features:

  • Prevention and early intervention programs.
  • Fair and impartial treatment of all offenders.
  • Early assessment of the needs of the juveniles.
  • Programs that are age and gender appropriate.
  • A variety of services including mental health, counseling, and vocational and educational services.
  • Family and community involvement.

Programs should be adequately funded, and staff should be appropriately trained. Frequent and thorough oversight and evaluation of staff, programs, and facilities – both public and private – is important. League has strong concerns about charging juveniles as adults, particularly the younger ones. This option should be reserved for the most heinous crimes and only as a last resort.

HISTORY

LWVCO’s involvement with the Task Force to Recodify the Children’s Code in 1994 and 1995 led to an increasing concern about juvenile justice. We supported legislation creating a youth crime prevention and intervention fund to provide grants to programs for youth crime prevention. We supported legislation that created the Division of Prevention and Intervention Services for Children and Youth within the Department of Public Health and Environment. We also supported continuation of the Youthful Offender System for juveniles charged as adults. LWVCO worked unsuccessfully to defeat legislation that lowered the age at which juveniles may be charged as adults to 12 and lowered the age at which juveniles could be direct-filed on to 14.

Beginning in 2006, we worked to reform laws regarding the direct-file process. Success finally came in 2012 with passage of three significant bills. The first raised the age for direct file from 14 to 16; allowed for judicial review of a direct-file decision; limited cases eligible for direct-file to only the most egregious; and exempted some direct-filed youth from mandatory minimum sentences. The other bills prohibited holding a youth charged as an adult in an adult facility prior to trial unless agreed to by a district court judge, and allowed for longer juvenile sentences in certain cases, giving district attorneys more flexibility in their decision of whether or not to direct-file.

In 2006 League successfully lobbied for passage of a bill that changed the mandatory sentence for juveniles charged as adults with a class I felony from life in prison without parole to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years; repeated efforts to make the law retroactive have been unsuccessful as of 2015.

We also supported bills that were adopted to encourage the use of restorative justice practices with juveniles; to open up eligibility for sentencing to the Youthful Offender System to more juveniles sentenced as adults and to certain 18- and 19-year-olds; to bring Colorado into compliance with federal law regarding the housing of juveniles in adult jails and lockups; and to allow juveniles charged as adults to be held in a juvenile facility prior to trial.

In 2013 League successfully supported a restorative justice pilot program bill to allow use of restorative justice prior to filing charges, and a bill that created an interim committee to study the issue of juvenile defense in juvenile delinquency proceedings. The study showed that over a period of 10 years, 40% of children in delinquency cases were not represented by a defense attorney at any stage in their case even though children have a constitutional right to counsel in juvenile court. This resulted in a bill passed in 2014, supported by League, that improved access to defense counsel for juveniles at detention hearings and first appearances in court.

League also supported a successful 2014 bill allowing the State Public Defender to hire social workers to assist in the defense of juvenile defendants in juvenile court. In the 12 states that already had this policy in place, it increased the use of alternatives to detention and incarceration and improved outcomes for juveniles.

A 2015 success was Juvenile Petty Offense Contracts, providing an alternative way for juveniles who have committed a petty offense to be held accountable for their actions without going to court and acquiring a juvenile record.

Another bill that League supported failed to pass. Policies on Juvenile Shackling in Court would have required the chief judge in every judicial district in the state to develop and implement an appropriate and evidence-based policy regarding the shackling of juveniles in juvenile court. Even though the bill failed, the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court directed the chief judges to do this.