Soundings

Conrad deFiebre
Juvenile Justice Grows Up
Autumn 1995

Though not a hotbed of crime, Minnesota has come up with a bold new approach to juvenile violence. Dismayed by tough teen criminals who scoffed at the leniency of the juvenile justice system, legislators enacted some tough reforms, making it easier to transfer underage felons to adult court. A key provision allows prosecutors or judges to designate serious offenders as "extended jurisdiction juveniles." Such youngsters remain under juvenile court supervision but also receive a suspended adult sentence, which they must serve out if they commit another crime before turning 21.

Minnesota also closed some glaring loopholes. Before, when prosecutors sent chronic young burglars to adult court, they got off lightly because the judge couldn't take their juvenile record into account when sentencing them. Now the records are available. (In New York, even juvenile judges can't learn about offenders' past crimes.) Kids convicted of gun crimes in juvenile court now aren't allowed to own firearms for at least ten years. And judges can hold parents in contempt for skipping their kids' juvenile court hearings.

These innovative reforms create "an unbroken continuum of social controls," says Barry Feld, a University of Minnesota law professor who served on the state task force that recommended the changes. New York would improve citizens' lives if it followed Minnesota's lead—but first voters must give the Legislature in Albany the gumption to buck the powerful legal-services lobby. (See "The Legal Aid Follies.")

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