How do states address the law violating conduct of youth? Every state has a system of courts with juvenile jurisdiction designed to address the law violating behavior of youth. The statutory purpose of these courts and its interactions with other juvenile justice system elements, such as law enforcement organizations and prosecutors, varies by state. State statutes also outline structural differences, such as those for intake and diversion, that influence court procedures and case flow. These distinctions influence the many decisions made by juvenile courts and shape the experiences of youth, families, and system stakeholders, creating 51 unique juvenile justice systems across the U.S.

Purpose clauses

Purpose clauses are usually written in statute to clarify the intention of the legislature for the state’s juvenile justice system, as this area of law is complex and can be ambiguous. Most states have an overall purpose clause for juvenile court and some have additional clauses by adjudication category or for the juvenile justice agency.

Purpose clauses tend to evolve along with larger juvenile justice paradigm shifts as priorities, knowledge, and national trends emerge. Purpose clauses are also influenced by court cases, new laws, and model legislation or reforms drafted by national experts during periods of collective change. Some states advance juvenile justice purpose clauses along this continuum and others mostly reflect principles of a prior reform cycle.

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This map shows the state's most recent paradigm shift.

No clause:

These states have no statutory juvenile court purpose clause.

Parens patriae:

This Latin phrase means "father of the nation" and applies to clauses that reflect the juvenile court judge’s earliest role as the state’s designated protector of children.

Due process era:

Refers to the reform period of the 1960's & 70's where federal laws, model acts, and Supreme Court cases influenced the addition of due process procedures.

Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ):

Refers to states that incorporate BARJ, a model of reform released in the early 1990's on the heels of the most punitive era of juvenile justice.

Developmental Approach:

These states retain elements of prior categories, but have purpose clauses that mention the use of adolescent development or other research, evidence based practices, or data to assist the juvenile justice system. >> Details

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    Intake and diversion

    Court intervention is mandatory within hours when custody is taken from parent/s for detention in every state. When youth are not in custody, initial complaints or petitions that allege a minor violated the law are screened for opportunities to divert youth from deeper court involvement at two stages: (pre-petition) after referral but before a judge must become involved, and (post-petition) after adjudication hearings are initiated, but before a formal juvenile record of adjudication is set.

    State legislatures specify when diversions can occur at intake and identify decision-making roles. In some states, prosecutors (DA's) make the decision. In others, the juvenile court oversees intake officers with this discretion. Intake officers are usually juvenile probation officers (JPO's) that work for a designated state or local (county/district) court service or executive agency. Some states divide tasks by offense level or grant authority to both DA's and JPO's in other combinations. Many states permit variations in local jurisdictions by court rule or local agreements.  

    Diversion time limits

    Court diversion time limits are set by statute in many states. On one hand, time limits help standardize diversion responses throughout the state and keep matters from pending without resolution for long periods of time. Limits can help maximize use of public resources (court time, alternative programming), and help resolve the use of 'voluntary' community supervision and placements quickly. On the other hand, mandated timelines could limit the court's ability to oversee comprehensive rehabilitation of youth without also imposing the collateral consequences of a juvenile record.

    Shorter pre-petition time limits afford due process, but shorter post-petition time limits may not afford the judge sufficient flexibility for exceptions, or enough time for youth with multiple needs to complete lasting rehabilitation or to restore justice. Time limits can also vary by local court rule or jurisdiction agreements.

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    This map shows whether prosecutorial officials and/or juvenile court intake officers have discretion to make the initial decision to divert youth from judicial involvement and adjudication in each state.  Court diversions can take the form of program referrals and contingent consensual agreements with terms and conditions that are monitored for successful completion to avoid judicial involvement and/or a juvenile adjudication record.

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      This map shows whether and at what stage states identify court diversion time limits for when adjudications must proceed, be finalized for the record, or dismissed.

      Pre-petition: Statutory time limits exist for informal, consensual agreements with monitored conditional terms and conditions that divert the matter from adjudication proceedings upon successful completion. The most common limit for non-judicial diversions is six months.

      Post-petition: Statutory time limits exist for court-ordered consent decrees or conditional orders with terms and conditions or dispositions that intend to avoid an adjudication record upon successful completion.  When restricted, judges are most commonly permitted to hold matters in pending status for about an addiional year.

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        Courtroom shackling

        Most states have the statutory ability to routinely shackle children during any delinquency-related juvenile court proceeding, regardless of the juvenile’s age or alleged offense.

        For certain criminal proceedings, unless a judge makes individual findings about the need to apply shackles, routine shackling would be considered a violation of the US Constitution for an adult—but not for a child.

        Recent changes

        • In Ohio, effective 7/1/16, a Rule of Superintendence for the Courts requires local court rules about juvenile restraints.

        • A Delaware law effective 9/6/16 restricts the use of shackles during proceedings.

        • Arizona’s Supreme Court amended Rule 12  effective 1/1/17 to restrict routine use of shackling.

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        Shackles are defined by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to include handcuffs, waist chains, ankle restraints, zip ties, or other restraints that are designed to impede movement or control behavior.

        As of November, 2015, 10 states have legislation and 12 states have requirements initiated by the judiciary to prevent routine shackling of juveniles.

        No statewide restriction:

        No statewide requirement

        Restricted by judiciary:

        Courtroom shackling is restricted by the state court

        Restricted by legislature:

        Courtroom shackling is restricted legislatively

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          Competency

          All but six states have statewide competency to stand trial requirements for juveniles. Competency refers to a person’s current state in the courtroom rather than the defense of insanity at the time of the alleged offense.  A state's age of criminal responsibility or infancy defense provision is sometimes confused with the concept of juvenile competency.  Age-bound defenses are usually described in penal codes, which apply to (adult) crimes but not delinquent acts.

          All states have competency statutes that apply to adults and generally align with a 1960 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Dusky v. U.S., 362 U.S. 402. The Dusky Standard has two tests: does the person have sufficient present ability to consult with their lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and does the person have a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him.

          States set criteria to help judges determine whether a person is competent. Most states (32) have evaluation criteria just for juveniles, and a few of those (3) have broadened the scope from a severe mental illness and/or developmental disability diagnosis to include considerations for developmental immaturity, permitting a more individualized determination. Effective 1-1-16, Oklahoma increased the tally to 33 and 4, respectively.

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            Sex offense registry

            When first adopted, federal registration and notification laws neither required nor prohibited inclusion of youth, but by the 1990s many state sex-offense registration laws were drafted to include youth adjudicated for sex offenses.  It was not until 2006, with the passing of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), that it became a federal requirement to register adjudicated sex offenses.

            SORNA requires those who commit sex offenses to register their places of residence and employment, while state and local laws prohibit them from traveling within child safety zones. Failure to register any change is a felony offense, punishable by prison and fines. Youth who move across state lines may be required to register at their new address, even though they were not required to register in the state where the offense occurred. SORNA also broadened the categories of registrable offenses, some requiring lifetime registration.

            Despite SORNA's original intentions, research indicates youth who sexually offend have relatively low reoffense rates and that registries stigmatize these youth in their communities and schools, resulting in serious unforeseen life-long consequences. For these and other reasons, in May 2016, the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice recommended that youth adjudicated delinquent be exempt from SORNA laws.

            Learn More

            SORNA FAQ on Juvenile Registration (Office of Justice Programs website)

            John Hopkins Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse 
            (child sexual abuse prevention research center)

            Based on a statute analysis completed by the Center for Youth Registration Reform, 12 states do not require registration for youth adjudicated of sex offenses in juvenile court.

            Registers:

            Statute permits or requires juveniles adjudicated in juvenile court on sex offender registries. While statute still requires registration in Pennsylvania, the practice has ended after being ruled unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Registerable offenses vary by state. Some of these registries are publicly available.

            Does not register:

            Does not place juveniles adjudicated in juvenile court on sex offender registry.

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              State

              National assistance

              The Center on Youth Registration Reform (CYRR) (a member of IMPACT JUSTICE) is a national youth advocacy organization dedicated to documenting the complexity of state policies on juvenile registries and providing national advocacy for repealing registry laws. CYRR provides news on system reform and tools for lawmakers reconsidering policies.

              About this project

              Juvenile Justice GPS (Geography, Policy, Practice, Statistics) is a project to develop a repository providing state policy makers and system stakeholders with a clear understanding of the juvenile justice landscape in the states.

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