Database Analyzes Juvenile Probation Laws by State

Posted April 7, 2021
Empty legislative chamber

Curi­ous about how state laws gov­ern and influ­ence juve­nile pro­ba­tion pol­i­cy? With the sup­port of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the Nation­al Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures has cre­at­ed a com­pre­hen­sive online scan and data­base of juve­nile pro­ba­tion laws. This resource, which includes analy­sis of trends across the coun­try, can help state law­mak­ers, juve­nile jus­tice prac­ti­tion­ers, com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and advo­cates under­stand statewide pro­ba­tion poli­cies and how they might affect local prac­tice and young people.

The sig­nif­i­cance of juve­nile pro­ba­tion to state lawmakers

As the most com­mon dis­po­si­tion for young peo­ple in trou­ble with the law, pro­ba­tion plays a piv­otal role in juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems. Every year, near­ly half a mil­lion youths are giv­en some form of pro­ba­tion. More than half of these young peo­ple are either nev­er found delin­quent in court or have been found to com­mit sta­tus offens­es ― con­duct that would not be a crime if it were com­mit­ted by an adult, such as skip­ping school or pos­sess­ing alcohol.

Pro­ba­tion plays a large role in per­pet­u­at­ing the vast and con­tin­u­ing over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Black, Lati­no and oth­er youth of col­or in juve­nile jus­tice. In 2017, the most cur­rent year for which data is avail­able, 55% of all pro­ba­tion dis­po­si­tions involved youth of col­or — far high­er than their share of the total youth pop­u­la­tion (46%). Even more wor­ri­some, 64% of young peo­ple held in res­i­den­tial cus­tody in 2017 for a tech­ni­cal vio­la­tion — which usu­al­ly involves break­ing pro­ba­tion rules rather than being charged with a new offense — were youth of color.

Giv­en its sig­nif­i­cant foot­print, trans­form­ing juve­nile pro­ba­tion presents an enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ty to improve the entire juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers rec­og­nize that state law is a lever to improve the jus­tice sys­tem and out­comes for hun­dreds of thou­sands of young people.

A com­pre­hen­sive online data­base of juve­nile pro­ba­tion laws

NCSL’s data­base com­piles the juve­nile pro­ba­tion statutes of all 50 states, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and U.S. ter­ri­to­ries in an inter­ac­tive map. The orga­ni­za­tion also pro­vides expla­na­tion and com­par­a­tive analy­sis of many aspects of juve­nile pro­ba­tion, with exam­ples from states and local­i­ties across the country.

This com­pre­hen­sive data­base fills a gap in under­stand­ing pro­ba­tion poli­cies across the coun­try and will be a valu­able resource for peo­ple work­ing to trans­form pro­ba­tion at the state lev­el,” says Liane Rozzell, a senior pol­i­cy asso­ciate with the Casey Foundation.

Trends in state juve­nile pro­ba­tion laws

NCSL high­light­ed four find­ings that emerged in the statu­to­ry research:

  1. Diver­sion and pro­ba­tion: States are increas­ing­ly like­ly to use diver­sion instead of tra­di­tion­al juve­nile pro­ba­tion. Many of these statu­to­ry pro­ce­dures are designed to pro­vide young peo­ple with oppor­tu­ni­ties to avoid enter­ing the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, or if they enter the sys­tem, to avoid for­mal sentencing.
  2. Pro­ba­tion term lim­its: States are estab­lish­ing stan­dard super­vi­sion term lengths and cri­te­ria to address the incon­sis­ten­cies that often exist from coun­ty to county.
  3. The evolv­ing land­scape of pro­ba­tion: States are look­ing at adopt­ing new mod­els of pro­ba­tion that focus less on sanc­tions and more on moti­vat­ing pos­i­tive behavior.
  4. The role of juve­nile pro­ba­tion offi­cers: Many states rely on admin­is­tra­tive or hir­ing prac­tices, rather than statute, to define the author­i­ty of and qual­i­fi­ca­tions for juve­nile pro­ba­tion officers.

The time is ripe for pol­i­cy­mak­ers to rethink pro­ba­tion and the poli­cies that gov­ern it,” says Stephen Bish­op, a senior asso­ciate at the Foun­da­tion lead­ing efforts to trans­form juve­nile probation.

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