The decision to incarcerate a juvenile should never be taken lightly. Since young people are still growing and maturing, removing juveniles from the general population for an extended period of time has the potential to severely damage their ability to transition from troubled teens to productive adults.

It is for this reason that New Jersey operates a specialized juvenile justice system to house youth who have committed state crimes. Unlike adult prisons, juvenile justice facilities are designed to provide youthful offenders with education and rehabilitative services that will help them develop the skills they need to become successful and self-sufficient once they are released from incarceration.

In some cases, though, juvenile offenders can be transferred to an adult facility. New Jersey law allows transfers for juvenile offenders who are age 16 or older and whose presence in a juvenile facility poses a threat to public safety, the safety of others in the facility or the facility’s ability to operate as intended. Until recently, juvenile offenders had no ability to challenge such a transfer. They did not even need to be notified that a transfer was pending.

This changed in August 2012, when a state appeals court ruled that juvenile offenders have a right to a due process hearing before they can be transferred to an adult facility.

The case was brought by a young man who was sentenced to four years in juvenile detention after being found delinquent on charges including resisting arrest and armed robbery. Officials decided to transfer the teen to adult prison after he allegedly assaulted a corrections officer. When the teen attempted to appeal his transfer, officials informed him that he had no right to due process.

What Process is Required?

The appeals court disagreed with the Juvenile Justice Commission and found that juvenile offenders must have a meaningful opportunity to contest a transfer to an adult facility. In doing so, it noted that, with a few limited exceptions, juvenile offenders are entitled to the same constitutional rights as adult inmates.

The court ordered the Juvenile Justice Commission to immediately revise its transfer policy. The new procedure must, at a minimum, provide juvenile offenders with the following rights:

  • Written notice of the proposed transfer
  • An explanation of the facts leading to the decision to transfer
  • Access to an impartial decision maker
  • An opportunity to provide input and oppose the transfer
  • Access to representation
  • Written findings of fact explaining why the transfer will proceed

The decision represents a substantial step forward for juvenile justice in New Jersey. Juveniles who are facing transfer to an adult facility would be wise to avail themselves of the new process. An experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer can help juveniles protect their rights.

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