Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) Acting Executive Director Dr. Jennifer LeBaron have announced proposed changes that, if adopted, would advance important youth justice reforms. In August, the JJC Executive Board approved Notices of Proposed Readoption with Amendments to two JJC regulations. Amendments to N.J.A.C. 13:90 include the proposed permanent adoption of the rules implementing the Restorative and Transformative Justice for Youths and Communities Pilot Program, as well as amendments to the rules governing the County Youth Services Commissions (CYSCs) and the Partnership/Family Court Program, including allowing “upfront” funding to be provided to community-based programs. Additionally, JJC is proposing amendments to N.J.A.C. 13:91 which include changes to the transfer rules to allow young people to continue their residence with the JJC beyond the age of 25, if certain criteria are met.
“New Jersey’s dedication to its youth and its commitment to equity and justice have made it a leader in youth justice reform,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “From our partnerships that expand preventative and diversionary programs throughout New Jersey’s communities, to funding community-based providers in a way that ensures equity, to identifying the most appropriate out-of-home placements and rehabilitative settings for each young person, changes continue to be made to enhance a system that expands opportunities for growth and success. The JJC has led significant advancements and the systemic transformation continues as New Jersey serves as a model for other states to follow.”
“The continued reform of New Jersey’s youth justice system recognizes that because each young person’s involvement with the youth justice system is unique, flexibility is necessary to promote positive outcomes,” said JJC Acting Executive Director Dr. Jennifer LeBaron. “We will continue to make changes that strengthen our system, open doors for new partnerships with dedicated individuals and community-based organizations and allow young people to focus on personal growth and development.”
N.J.A.C. 13:90 regulates the Partnership/Family Court Program which disperses more than $18 million in formula funding to all 21 CYSCs. CYSCs are legislatively established planning bodies within each county charged with implementing programs for high-need or justice-involved youth. Funding is utilized to support programs and services at all points of the juvenile justice continuum, including prevention, diversion, detention alternatives, dispositional options, and reentry services. The proposed amendments streamline some of the requirements for grant applications and give more structure to the requirements for the CYSCs. In addition, they will also support youth committed to state custody as they transition back to the community, minimizing the likelihood of recidivism and future contact with the justice system. The amendments will also make the CYSCs more inclusive of the local community, establish and implement methods for youth, families, and the community to have input in the work of the CYSCs, and allow for meetings to take place by video conference to increase overall attendance and community participation.
The proposed amendments to N.J.A.C. 13:90 also make an important change to how funds are awarded. In the past, the JJC reimbursed counties for funds that had already been expended. Through the proposed amendments, the JJC may instead provide partial funding upfront to the counties, and provide the remainder of the funds as a reimbursement after the initial disbursement has been expended. In the past, small businesses or local non-profit organizations, many of which were operated by people of color, did not have access to upfront capital to provide services and then wait for reimbursement. As such, this change promotes racial justice and addresses historic inequities.
In addition to the proposed amendments to N.J.A.C. 13:90, the JJC and the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) are jointly proposing to readopt with amendments N.J.A.C. 13:91, which regulates the transfer of custody of juveniles waived to adult criminal court and currently serving their sentences with the JJC. The amendments provide for an exception to the current rule requiring youth to be transferred to the DOC when they reach the age of 25. If young people are making substantial progress toward their goals, they may be allowed to continue their residence with the JJC until the completion of their term, if they are within 24 months of the expiration of their term.
The proposed amendments were published to the New Jersey Register on September 6, 2022.