New Law Provides Necessary Pandemic Relief to Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Governor Murphy signed S2511 into law yesterday, which will immediately eliminate some of the fines and financial penalties imposed on youth involved in the juvenile justice system and reduce reliance on medically dangerous congregate care settings for young people. The law will now bring about relief from the pandemic for those involved in the system.

The pandemic has led to unprecedented economic and public health emergencies in our state. While families try to maintain their safety, health and well-being during this crisis, they also face significant financial strain. This is particularly true for the families of youth involved in the juvenile legal system, many of whom were already living in poverty before the pandemic. This law will reduce some of the stress on vulnerable families by immediately abolishing those court-imposed financial penalties that already were scheduled to be eliminated in November pursuant to the prior legislation. 

The bill reduces the risk of harm from COVID-19 to incarcerated youth, staff of Juvenile Justice Commission facilities and the community at large by prohibiting the re-incarceration of youth who have completed their entire custodial terms and are on post-incarceration supervision status. Bringing youth who have not committed any new offenses into juvenile facilities during the pandemic places facility staff and residents at a heightened risk of medical harm, which in turn gives rise to a broader public health risk when staff return home to their communities each day. The bill will allow New Jersey to take a vital step toward reducing the spread of the disease.

Finally, the bill will play an important role in promoting a more equitable system, as the economic and medical harms it will reduce disproportionately impact Black and Latino youth. By implementing these provisions immediately, New Jersey will be taking an important step in confronting and eliminating these disparities.  ACNJ thanks Governor Murphy and the primary sponsors: Senators Nellie Pou and Shirley Turner, and Assemblymembers Benjie Wimberly and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson for their leadership on this issue.

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