Gov. Peter Shumlin June 1 signed a law to more closely align Vermont’s juvenile justice system with brain development research and best practices for serving young people who interact with the criminal justice system. Vermont is one of the few states where 16- and 17-year-olds are currently charged in criminal court as adults for any offense, including misdemeanors. The new law will change that, allowing juvenile offenders to be tried in family court.
In 2010, Gov. Shumlin ran on a promise to create a more rational criminal justice system to reduce recidivism rates and save Vermonters money. The governor has delivered on that promise, reducing Vermont’s incarceration rate to the lowest point since the early 2000s. H.95, which the governor signed June 1, builds on that progress by aligning state policies to studies that have shown youth are much more amenable to treatment and rehabilitation.
“Ultimately, the goal is to avoid treating juveniles as adults, with the exception of the most serious offenses, and to mitigate major collateral consequences for youth charged in adult court, including a public record, exclusion from the military, and ineligibility for college loans. These are things that seriously hamper a young person’s chances for success later in life,” said Gov. Shumlin.
The law takes effect incrementally, and by July 2018 officially raises the age of youthful offender status from 17 to 21 years of age. In addition, the States Attorneys have the option to refer a youth to a Department of Children and Families (DCF) approved community-based restorative 1justice program in lieu of filing charges in family court.
“DCF appreciates the collaboration with legislators and stakeholders that has made this bill possible. Vermont will now have a juvenile justice system that reflects the latest in brain development science and that allows youth who’ve committed minor offences alternative consequences to a criminal record,” said DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz.
The bill also takes major steps in reforming the supervision of young people under state custody by extending the age of DCF supervision for youth under the jurisdiction of the Family Division to age 19.5. Incarcerated youth who are ages 18 through 25 may now only be housed in a Department of Corrections facility dedicated to youth.
“Creating a more rational criminal justice system is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do,” Gov. Shumlin said. “These reforms will increase a youth’s chance of success. It’s common sense. I want to especially thank Senator Sears who took up this bill and made the issue of reforming juveniles justice in Vermont a top priority this legislative session.”