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South Jersey Criminal Lawyers: New Law Changes Confinement of Juveniles

Serving a term of incarceration for a criminal offense has become a bit easier for juveniles in New Jersey thanks to new legislation signed into law by Governor Christie this August. The new law mandates dramatic changes in the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, plus a number of other minor changes in the treatment of juvenile offenders.

When it goes into effect next year, the law will place drastic restrictions on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. Most importantly, the law flatly prohibits juveniles from being held in solitary confinement unless the juvenile poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or to the security of the facility and all other, less-restrictive options have been exhausted.

The law will also prohibit juveniles from being held in solitary confinement for more than eight consecutive hours, and it sets limits on the number of consecutive days that a juvenile may be held in solitary confinement. For 14- and 15-year-old juveniles, the limit is two consecutive days. For 16- and 17-year-old juveniles, the limit is three consecutive days, and for juveniles 18 and older, the limit is five consecutive days. No juvenile may be held in solitary for more than 10 total days in any calendar month under the new law.

State correctional facilities and juvenile detention centers will also be required by the new law to document their use of solitary confinement, including the date and duration of each occurrence, the reason for placement in solitary and the race, age, and gender of the juvenile placed in solitary confinement. The records of solitary confinement must also be published on the Juvenile Justice Commission’s website.

The enactment of the law follows widespread news coverage of the suicide of a young New York man, Kalief Browder, who had been held in solitary confinement at Rikers Island. Browder was incarcerated at Rikers Island when he was 16 years old for allegedly stealing a backpack. He spent three years in the New York City jail complex, almost two of them in solitary confinement, even though he never stood trial or was found guilty of any crime. He committed suicide in June, 2015. After his case was publicized, the City of New York eliminated solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds, citing the damaging effects that prolonged isolation can have on their mental stability.

While the New Jersey law deserves much credit for limiting the use of solitary confinement, the law mandates several other significant changes in the treatment of juvenile offenders:

  • Age for Transfer: The law raises the age at which a juvenile’s case can be transferred from a juvenile court to an adult court from 14 years of age to 16 years of age.
  • Rehabilitation Age: The new legislation raises the age by which a juvenile can be rehabilitated from 19 to 26 years old. This is significant because family courts have discretion to keep juvenile cases in a juvenile court if the juvenile can show a probability of rehabilitation through the use of court services by age 26.
  • Rehabilitation and Education Needs: The act requires juvenile courts to consider the rehabilitation and educational needs of any incarcerated juvenile, and gives them authority to order juvenile authorities to provide juveniles with academic instruction and counseling, vocational education and training, post-secondary education, treatment for alcohol or narcotic abuse, mental health treatment and medical and dental treatment.
  • Transfer Protections: The law requires juvenile courts to provide juveniles with a lawyer and procedural safeguards before they can be transferred to an adult facility.

Mount Holly Criminal Lawyers at The Law Offices of Michele Finizio Advocate for Those Facing Criminal Charges in New Jersey

South Jersey criminal lawyers at the Law Offices of Michele Finizio provide aggressive, knowledgeable legal representation to individuals charged with crimes. Our offices are conveniently located in Moorestown, New Jersey and we are easily accessible to serve clients throughout South New Jersey, including the communities of Camden County, Burlington County, Gloucester County, and Salem County.  For a free consultation, call us at 609-230-0374 or contact us online.

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