A juvenile justice reform bill passed by New Jersey's legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie this month will keep 14-year-olds out of criminal court, regardless of the crime. New Jersey is the first state to have no exceptions in the law surrounding waivers for defendants 14 and under, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The bill also narrows the list of offenses that can lead to prosecution as an adult, keeps some prisoners in juvenile custody until age 21, ends solitary confinement as a punishment and restricts the duration when it is used as a safety measure.
New Jersey is one of 21 states that directs juvenile courts to focus on rehabilitation, using language from the Balanced and Restorative Justice movement. The movement focuses on three primary interests: public safety, accountability to victims and the community as well as developing skills in offenders so they can have productive and law-abiding lives. The bill takes effect seven months from signing. Some juvenile justice organizations are hoping New Jersey's reforms will prompt other states to follow. Melissa Sickmund, the director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice cited New York, which treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults no matter the offense. “What a huge difference between what side of the river you're on,” she said.