A Warning Instead of Prison? NJ Puts Too Many Teens Behind Bars, Report Says
When a young person violates the law, New Jersey cops aren't required to put the minor in cuffs and haul him or her away.
In fact, a couple of directives from the New Jersey Attorney General, on the books for the years, specifically advise law enforcement on ways to handle offending minors that don't include the juvenile justice system.
But according to a report released this month by American Civil Liberties Union-New Jersey, the state dramatically underuses its diversionary programs, sending more minors through the system and potentially setting them up for failure in the future.
Regulated by the Attorney General's office, the state's two primary diversionary programs allow for the use of curbside warnings and stationhouse adjustments — the former for the most minor delinquencies, prompting a warning from cops; and the latter used for more serious behaviors, requiring an "immediate consequence" such as community service or restitution.
Either program would be enacted in lieu of formal charges and keep a minor free of a juvenile record.
"There's quite a bit of research out there that talks about the negative effects of juvenile arrests and delinquency proceedings," said Portia Allen-Kyle, criminal justice transparency fellow with ACLU-NJ. "It increases risk of dropping out, it increases the risk of further criminal justice system involvement as kids get older."
It's difficult to track data on curbside warnings, which are exclusively verbal, but ACLU-NJ managed to pull records from 17 of New Jersey's 21 counties on the use of stationhouse adjustments.
From January 2014 to December 2016, according to reports issued to the Attorney General, 112 out of 353 law enforcement agencies did not perform a single stationhouse adjustment. ACLU-NJ could not gather data from Camden, Essex, Monmouth and Warren counties for the period examined.
The report counted 5,234 stationhouse adjustments issued by the reporting counties from 2014 through 2016.
Officers statewide made more than 1,400 juvenile arrests for curfew and loitering violations in 2015 alone, the report said. But, in the 17 counties studies, only 13 stationhouse adjustments were given for these low-level violations.
Among its recommendations, the report urges the Office of the Attorney General to issue a new directive on the issue and urges law enforcement to issue more comprehensive and transparent reports on the use of stationhouse adjustments.