This section provides an overview of several key components of the juvenile justice system in New Jersey, along with recent data and trends.
Moving Through the System
A juvenile enters the juvenile justice system when a complaint charging the commission of a delinquent act is signed. A law enforcement officer may take a juvenile into custody when there is probable cause to believe that the juvenile is delinquent. In lieu of signing a delinquency complaint, the officer may divert the case through several means, including releasing the juvenile to a responsible parent or guardian (with or without a reprimand and warning) or conduct a station house adjustment. Once a delinquency complaint is signed, a juvenile can be held in a secure detention facility if certain statutory criteria are met. The officer refers the case to court intake service to request admission into detention.
Juvenile/Family Crisis Intervention Units
Juvenile/Family Crisis Intervention Units (JFCIUs) were authorized to divert from court proceedings, matters involving family related problems, e.g., incorrigibility, truancy, runaway and serious family conflict. The JFCIUs provide short-term, crisis intervention services with the goal of stabilizing the family situation and/or referring the juvenile and family to available community agencies.
Juvenile Conference Committees (JCCs) and Intake Service Conferences (ISCs) are diversion procedures established by the court and utilized in select first and second offenses of a minor nature. JCCs are comprised of community residents appointed by the court to review certain delinquency complaints. ISCs are conducted by court intake staff to review slightly more serious delinquency allegations. Both diversion procedures occur after delinquency complaints have been signed and filed with the court.
Secure juvenile detention is the temporary placement of juveniles charged with a delinquent act, in a locked facility, prior to the disposition of their case. New Jersey law mandates that the court can detain juveniles only if they are considered a danger to the community or if they are deemed a risk not to appear in court. (N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-34). In addition, some juveniles are detained post-disposition while awaiting program placement. Several counties have also developed a short-term commitment program, which serves as a dispositions option.
In New Jersey, counties are generally responsible for operating and financing detention facilities. The State’s role is primarily limited to standard setting, monitoring and technical assistance through the JJC’s Compliance Monitoring Unit. In 1999 there were 18 juvenile detention facilities statewide, with a capacity of 910 beds.
The Family Court/Court Process
The Family Court is required to hold hearings for juveniles charged as delinquents, with specific mandated time limitations, particularly regarding juveniles held in secure detention. (N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-38).
In sequential order, they are as follows:
- An initial detention hearing is to be held within 24 hours of admission.
- For juveniles remanded to detention, the initial probable cause hearing and second detention hearing are to be held within two court days. If probable cause is not found, the juvenile is released from detention pending an adjudicator hearing.
- Review hearings are held for detained juveniles at intervals of 14 and 21 court days. At each of these hearings, the juvenile’s detention status is reconsidered by the judge.
- At the adjudicator hearing, the court makes a determination on the delinquency charges. A juvenile may be adjudicated delinquent on one or more of the charges; the other charges are dismissed. After an adjudication of delinquency (at that time or at a separate disposition hearing), the judge will order a disposition.
- In detained cases, the disposition hearing is to occur within 60 court days of admission to detention unless extended by the court for good cause.
Disposition Hearings and Options
The Juvenile Code allows judges a wide array of dispositions in adjudicated cases. The most common disposition is probation supervision. Probation is often ordered along with other dispositions requirements such as performing community service or paying financial restitution. In addition, probation is ordered along with more restrictive requirements such as entering a residential program or undergoing counseling. Probation is a major resource to the Family Court and the juvenile justice system.
Short of waiving juveniles to the adult system, commitment to the JJC for incarceration is the most severe disposition available to the Family Court. The average sentence in committed cases is two years, although terms range from 30 days to 20 years or more. In cases where commitment is suspended, adjudicated youth are often placed on probation and, in addition, ordered into a JJC non-institutional residential program.
Classification and Placement
Following the commitment of a juvenile by the court, each juvenile is assigned to a specific custody level and treatment program based on assessments of the offenders’ supervision requirements and service needs. For the Commission, this means first determining whether juveniles are appropriate for institutional or structured non-institutional placement.
The Mobile Classification team begins the classification process by visiting the county detention centers within a designated region in order to review court, detention, and prior placement documents and histories, and to interview juveniles upon their commitment. Through this process the team identifies specific sanctions and services that have been utilized for the youth, as well as ongoing or new service needs, and makes a recommendation regarding an appropriate placement for the juvenile. Using this information, the team completes a unified intake assessment packet, which includes the recommendation for either institutional care or structured non-institutional program placement, and submits it to the JJC’s Centralized Intake and Classification Office.
Waiver to Adult Court
Waiver is the practice of transferring jurisdiction over a juvenile from Family Court to adult Criminal Court. (N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26). Once waived, the juvenile is treated in the same manner as an adult. The juvenile can be held in an adult jail and, if found guilty, is subject to the same penalties as an adult. For those sentenced to a term of incarceration, the sentence is served in either an adult or (in some instances) a juvenile facility.
The prosecutor initiates the process by filing a waiver motion; the court then determines probable cause and decides whether or not to waive. A juvenile must be 14 or older at the time of the charged delinquent act to be considered for waiver. Juveniles 14 or older also may elect to have their cases waived to adult court.