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Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States

Colorado: Review of Children's Code Brings Significant Change for Juvenile Justice Administration


The passage of House Bill 96­1005 in the 1996 legislative session completed a 3-year assessment of juvenile justice administration in the State of Colorado. Beginning with a special legislative session called by Governor Roy Romer in 1993 to address the increasing number of youth in need of services from the human services and judicial systems in the State, Colorado has undertaken a comprehensive review of State juvenile services.

Through the work of the Interim Committee on Youth Violence, the Task Force on the Recodification of the Children's Code, and the Legislative Oversight Committee (LOC), several initiatives were introduced in the 1996 legislative session that proposed significant changes to the administration of child welfare and juvenile justice policies in the State. The legislative process brought many changes and amendments to the proposals and resulted in a system that seeks to balance youth accountability for delinquent and violent behavior with the best and most appropriate services to help youth become contributing members of society.

Although it is too early to assess the long-range impact of the measure, officials expect that a full implementation of the law will result from their 3-year commitment to finding "what works" and soliciting the views of hundreds of Coloradans concerned with the administration of juvenile justice in their State.

Impetus for Reform: A Summer of Violence

The juvenile justice reform effort in Colorado was prompted by what the local press termed a "summer of violence" in the State in 1993. In the span of only a few months, a series of random violent acts seriously injured or killed several people in the Denver metropolitan area. The media recounted incidents in which a 10-month-old child was wounded by a stray bullet while visiting the Denver Zoo and a young boy was hit in the arm by a random gunshot while playing on his aunt's porch. In another incident, a young man was murdered and his wife abducted and assaulted as they were en route to their neighborhood grocery store.279

The availability of firearms to youth in the community in large part accounted for the increased violence. According to an article that appeared that summer in the Denver Post, "[Local] authorities agree that the prevalence of weapons among youths is at an all-time high. In the first five days of a high-intensity gang sweep, Denver officers confiscated 69 guns, mostly from teenagers."280

The rash of violence caused significant concern among the public and among State and local officials, who noted the shocking nature of the randomness and unpredictability of the violence in the area. Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter noted that "the violence we are seeing has, to some extent, a random nature. And while it has a gang dynamic, we have innocent people who are not gang involved who are being injured and killed -- and that is something new."281 The Governor expressed the same concern with random and impersonal violence, which is especially frightening to citizens. The drive-by shooting, and the irrationality of such an act, indicated to the Governor "an abandoning of our moral code."282

In response, Romer called a special legislative session in September 1993. A result of the 10-day session was the creation of an Interim Committee on Youth Violence that studied juvenile justice activity in the State and concluded that the children's code was in need of revision.283 The committee determined that, although the laws governing children and families had been reviewed and partially recodified in 1988, the changes made in that year were not comprehensive. It noted that the number of children in need of support services overwhelmed the human service and judicial systems. The committee found that there was an imbalance between treatment and aftercare for children receiving services, which were fragmented and duplicative in some cases. Further, little substantive information was available on the effectiveness of the services and interventions provided to youth and their families. State leaders also realized the importance of the community's role in providing services to youth and the necessity of interagency communication in providing appropriate sanctions and services to children.284

This conclusion, coupled with the work and recommendations of the Interim Committee, led to the 1994 introduction and enactment of S. 94­21, Concerning a Task Force Study for the Recodification of the Colorado Children's Code.

Task Force for the Recodification of the Children's Code

The primary charge of the task force was to determine whether the Colorado Children's Code needed to be rewritten entirely or only modified in places. The statutorily defined duties of the task force were as follows:

bullet To evaluate the overall effectiveness of the Colorado Children's Code, identify areas in need of revision, and provide guidance and make recommendations to the Legislative Oversight Committee in its development of a legislative proposal for the recodification of the children's code.
bullet To communicate with and obtain input from groups throughout the State affected by the recodification of the code.
bullet To create subcommittees as necessary to include individuals not serving on the task force in order to aid in the completion of the task force study and the development of a legislative proposal.285

For the next 12 months, beginning in the fall of 1994 and extending through the entire 1995 legislative session, a diverse task force was assembled. It was composed of representatives from State and local agencies, family court judges, probation officers, attorneys, representatives from nonprofit agencies charged with the treatment of families and children, and a family that would experience the impact of changes in children and family law in the State.

To facilitate the task force objectives, subcommittees were formed in eight topic areas that included juvenile justice; child protection; relinquishment of parental rights and adoption, paternity, and child support; development of a single uniform assessment instrument; family-focused legal and administrative procedures; performance-based standards for service providers; homeless youth; and parental rights and responsibilities.286 Members of the task force solicited 120 additional Coloradans to participate on these subcommittees. Subcommittees met frequently and reported monthly to the subcommittee chair, who was a task force member, on their progress and recommendations.

According to the task force's final report submitted to the LOC in September 1995, the chairman of the task force noted in his opening comments that:

[T]he Colorado Children's Code contained a basic structure, focus, and legislative process that needed only clarification and some modification rather than an entirely new code . . . and that most of the changes made by the special session in 1994 related to delinquency addressed the needs of public safety. There were, however, a number of recommendations made to allow the system to be more responsive to the principles of responsibility. This meant that public safety is suggested as needing a higher priority with consequences for criminal behavior being imposed more rapidly and more meaningfully.287

The Juvenile Justice Subcommittee Findings and Recommendations

The juvenile justice subcommittee began its work by articulating the goal of creating "an effective juvenile justice system that addresses the needs of children and their families and preserves the safety of the community, and under which early intervention and prevention services are available." The salient policy issues it identified for discussion were public safety and accountability for behavior; out-of-home placement of delinquent youth; the relationship between the juvenile justice and education systems; juvenile social and delinquency history and records; juvenile parole, detention, and diversion; fragmentation of services across the State; the statutory creation of the Division of Youth Services within the Department of Human Services; the role of juvenile courts; the needs of special offenders; and direct file and other transfer provisions.288 Further, the subcommittee wanted to create a system that coordinated assessment procedures and youth services into a system whose base was at the community level and to suggest feasible revisions that would result in more expeditious processing of juvenile caseloads.289

In its work, the panel also battled with the perception that government was intervening in the lives of families and children inappropriately and circumventing a parent's right to raise his or her child. The chairman of the juvenile justice subcommittee, who also served as the director of the Department of Human Services, was particularly responsive to many of these issues, according to the task force's final report. "[The director] consistently looked for ways to reduce government interference while maintaining the department's ability to properly respond to the needs of children and families when appropriate."290

Through the work of the juvenile justice subcommittee, the task force presented nearly 20 juvenile code recommendations to the LOC. The recommendations included establishing a cabinet-level position for youth crime prevention; augmenting the role of the municipal courts in processing juvenile cases; setting aside funds to supplement community corrections allocations; and changing procedures regarding the transfer of information about delinquent youth between the juvenile justice and education systems, while getting tough on parents of truant children.291

The majority of the subcommittee recommendations, however, related to a juvenile offender's entry into the juvenile justice system and subsequent adjudication. Presentencing assessment and sentencing options also were addressed. The provisions of these four primary categories include:

bullet Arrest and Entry. The task force proposed that a juvenile could be interrogated without a parent if both the youth and parent agreed. It also suggested the creation of a Juvenile Assessment and Intake Program (JAIP) in each judicial district. The JAIP would be required to use a uniform assessment tool to gauge the needs of the offender and the risks the juvenile poses to the public. Finally, a common juvenile justice information system was proposed.
bullet Adjudication. The task force sought to make more specific the acceptable timeframes for case processing, reflecting the importance of providing an immediate sanction for youth misbehavior. It also sought to change the way the State transferred juveniles into criminal court by expanding direct filing authority to 12- and 13-year-olds charged with a class 1 or 2 felony. As a result of that change, the body proposed to eliminate a prosecutor's ability to file a motion to have a case transferred to district court. The task force suggested expanding the definition of aggravated juvenile offender to those youth charged with sexual assault on a child.
bullet Presentencing. These task force recommendations focused on presentencing assessment procedures. The recommendations called for incorporating specific areas of assessment into the statute and combining the probation; social services; and Department of Human Services, Office of Youth Services' evaluations into one interdisciplinary evaluation. Finally, the task force recommended that interagency community review teams be developed to screen and recommend placements in levels beyond normal probation supervision, a concept already in place in many Colorado jurisdictions.
bullet Sentencing. The task force sought to clarify and make more consistent the criteria by which juveniles are sanctioned in Colorado. It recommended that the minimum juvenile sentence be based on offense type and proposed expanding placement options for juveniles adjudicated delinquent. It advocated for an increased role for parents in delinquency proceedings and proposed removing the cap on parental responsibility for restitution payments. Further, the task force proposed to allow juvenile court judges to use indeterminate sentencing procedures and retain authority to reduce the sentence in certain cases. Community review teams would play a role in sentencing as well, by reviewing enhanced and community placement sentencing options. The teams also would be responsible for parole plan review and approval under the recommendations. Parole terms would have a mandatory minimum of 1 year.292

The task force combined the juvenile justice subcommittee recommendations with the recommendations of the other seven subcommittees and submitted its final recommendations to the LOC for review.

Legislative Oversight Committee Action

The LOC reviewed the task force's recommendations for incorporation into a legislative proposal to be introduced before the General Assembly in the 1996 session. The LOC was composed of three representatives and three senators concerned with issues facing children and families: Representative Jeanne Adkins, chairman; Representative Russell George; Representative Jeannie Reeser; Senator Sally Hopper, vice chairman; Senator Gloria Tanner; and Senator Dottie Wham.

The LOC reviewed and debated the task force's recommendations and adopted many of the task force's provisions, including proposals to statutorily create the Department of Youth Services; establish the JAIP risk assessment program and instrument; make juvenile records more accessible; create a juvenile justice information system; lift the cap on parental liability for juvenile restitution payments; and enact measures to ensure consistent sanctioning through indeterminate sentencing and mandatory parole. The LOC amended and adopted several other provisions, including:

bullet Requiring municipal court judges to sentence juveniles to appropriate community programs when they are available and appropriate. The task force had suggested encouraging the judges to use community-based alternatives.
bullet Allowing for placement of juveniles into the Regimented Juvenile Training Program (boot camp), in combination with another secure placement. The task force suggested that the court should not combine boot camp placement with any other sanction involving secure confinement.
bullet Expanding direct filing authority via transfers for juveniles ages 12 to 14 for class 1 and 2 felonies and repealing the transfer provisions for all other cases. The task force recommended repealing the transfer statute entirely and augmenting direct file provisions for 12- and 13-year-olds charged with class 1 and 2 felonies.293

Although the LOC accepted many of the core ideas set forth by the task force, it also rejected several key components of the task force's findings. For example, it rejected the idea of setting aside a portion of State appropriations to judicial districts to be combined with community funds for community corrections programs for nonfelony offenders. LOC members were concerned that this plan would result in a first-come, first-served delivery of services. They questioned the availability of services under this plan if a juvenile entered the system after the State and community-raised funds were expended. Further, the LOC was concerned this would result in localized services and circumvent the goal of reducing fragmented service delivery across the State. In rejecting this portion of the proposal, the LOC also rejected the community review team concept.294

The LOC also rejected several initiatives related to parental responsibility for truant behavior. The committee members agreed that parents should be somewhat accountable for truant children but noted that often parents did not have control over their children. They also were not in favor of keeping unruly children in class and, as a result, voted to repeal the compulsory school attendance law. According to the LOC report, the committee "agreed that students who do not want to attend school will not attend school," and that some committee members "questioned the State law, which requires the attendance of disruptive students who don't want to be in school . . . [thus] rendering schools as houses of detention."295

Finally, the LOC did not support the recommendation to create a cabinet-level position for prevention purposes. It voted instead to establish a function in the State auditor's office that would coordinate and evaluate prevention and intervention strategies and programs in the State and identify duplicative efforts.

Elements of Reform

H.R. 96­1005, as introduced before the 1996 General Assembly, reflected the conclusions of the LOC. During the 1996 legislative session, however, a series of hearings and testimony exposed some dissent from the plan put forth by the LOC. Myriad views were heard and represented as the bill moved through the legislative process. For example, some groups, including State prosecutors, believed the LOC proposal had deviated significantly from the task force's findings. Still other groups were concerned about any expansion of the role of the State in making decisions about sanctioning and services for children and its impact on the privacy right in child rearing.296

As the bill moved through the legislature, however, it became clear to all interested parties that the children's code needed significant revision. Because this bill would have an impact on the children's code in its totality, interested parties believed this was an opportunity for broad change in the administration of child welfare programs. A collective mindset was created from two somewhat opposing camps: those who supported the reforms and valued increased accountability in the juvenile justice system and those who perceived the discussion of children's code reform as an opportunity to contribute more broadly to the climate of change. This environment lent itself to compromise and collaboration as the four primary pieces of legislation representing the work of the task force -- recodification of juvenile code definitions, juvenile justice reform, child welfare amendments, and information management for multiagency access to information on youth -- moved through the legislature.297

Although the reform initiative, as enacted, differed significantly from the original task force recommendations, many of the core ideas and concepts were in place in the final bill. For example, the legislature, through its action, created a measure that prioritized increased accountability and a swift sanction against juvenile delinquency and youth misbehavior. It retained the provisions for transferring juveniles to criminal court to allow them to be held accountable for violent behavior. The law also clarified the roles and expectations of various State and local officials who come into contact with these youth as they are processed through the juvenile justice system.

House Bill 96­1005. The juvenile justice reform initiative resulting from Colorado's 3-year study of the delivery of services to youth in the State made several significant changes to the manner in which juvenile justice is administered. The continued attempt to balance both a youth's accountability and his or her rehabilitation and treatment is evident in the legislative declaration of the State's juvenile justice system reform:

The General Assembly hereby finds that the intent of this article is to protect and improve the public safety by creating a system of juvenile justice that will appropriately sanction juveniles who violate the law. The General Assembly further finds that, while holding paramount the public safety, the juvenile justice system shall take into consideration the best interests of the juvenile in providing appropriate treatment to reduce the rate of recidivism in the juvenile justice system and to assist the juvenile in becoming a productive member of society.298

In addition, the law required a 1-year mandatory parole period, removed the cap on restitution for parents of delinquent youth, and provided increased agency access to youth records -- provisions that were included in both the task force and LOC recommendations.299

The enacted measure slightly amended most of the LOC recommendations set forth in H.R. 96­1005. The enacted provisions include:

bullet Facilitating speedy case processing through expanded deadlines and provisions for the court to grant continuances for good cause.
bullet Creating a new Division of Youth Corrections in the Department of Human Services.
bullet Providing for juvenile intake teams to assess the needs of alleged youth offenders as they enter the system, replacing the JAIP proposal. The law eliminated the proposed required assessment tool, allowing local authorities to adopt assessment instruments appropriate to local needs.
bullet Redefining "aggravated juvenile offenders" to include juveniles ages 10 to 12 charged with a crime of violence. This class of young offenders had the right to a six-person jury trial.
bullet Clarifying and changing LOC recommendations for sentencing youth to boot camp programs.
bullet Requiring parental involvement in juvenile proceedings and hearings before the juvenile court, with exceptions for good cause.
bullet Adding crimes for which a district attorney may elect to file adult criminal charges and allowing for transfer to criminal court of juveniles ages 12 and 13 charged with class 1 or 2 felonies, rather than juveniles ages 12 to 14 as proposed by the LOC.300

Implementation and Outlook

Because many of the provisions of H.R. 96­1005 were not effective until January 1, 1997, it is still too early to tell what issues, if any, will help or hinder implementation of the juvenile justice reform effort. The parties involved in this effort took steps to increase support and buy-in for juvenile justice reform in hopes of facilitating full implementation of the measure. For example, the Colorado State Advisory Group advocated for the task force to be composed of members who represented different perspectives and priorities for juvenile justice reform. Having diverse representation forced those individuals with opposing views and interests to listen to the opinions of others and allowed a mechanism for all voices to be heard and represented. According to State officials, this broad inclusion and availability "at the table" helped facilitate support for the bill.301

Further, the involvement of more than 100 additional Coloradans participating on the subcommittees was significant in ensuring that all interests were represented. Subcommittee selections were made with attention to geographic, racial, and gender diversity, and a person's group identification -- social worker, government attorney, therapist, parent, or father's rights. This avoided overrepresentation of a particular group on a subcommittee.302

Although the sensational media accounts in 1993 likely inspired juvenile justice reform by enhancing the public's perception and concern about the problem of juvenile crime, the media presentation of the proposed changes to the juvenile justice code in 1996 were much more substantive and informative. One observer noted the absence of sensational headlines in the local papers and the inclusion of more substantive information in articles about the policy changes being debated before the legislature. For example, at one point early in the debate on juvenile justice reform, a provision was introduced to drop the age of direct file to 10 for some offenses. The media stories discussed the advantages and disadvantages of making a change of that type in the law.303

With significant statewide support for the legislation, it is expected that the effort will be sustainable. State officials already have anticipated some changes in current infrastructure to accommodate the changes made by the law. For example, the mandatory 1-year parole provision has led policymakers to appropriate additional funds to help judges and court personnel prepare for more juvenile parole cases. An additional allocation was made to the judicial department to help the courts hire administrative staff or part-time magistrates.304

Only time will tell if the initiatives set forth by the legislature will achieve the goals of holding juveniles accountable for their behavior, reducing recidivism, and helping delinquents become contributing members of society. Supporters anticipate that the modifications to the juvenile justice system and the other changes to the children's code will enable the State to have a positive impact on the lives of all its youth.

279. Steve Lipsher, Denver's Summer of Violence: Irrational Shooting Sparks Fear in Areas Previously Untouched, Denver Post (Aug. 8, 1993).

280. Id.

281. Id.

282. Id.

283. Task Force for the Recodification of the Colorado Children's Code, S. 94­21 (Colo. 1994) (on file with author) [hereinafter Recodification].

284. Id., Legislative Oversight Committee, Legislative Oversight Committee for the Recodification of the Colorado Children's Code, p. v. (n.d.).

285. Id. at v, vi.

286. Recodification, supra note 283.

287. Task Force for the Recodification of the Children's Code: Final Report (Sept. 1995) [hereinafter Final Report].

288. Recodification, supra note 283.

289. Recodification Task Force, Summary of Recommendations for Juvenile Justice Revisions (on file with author) (n.d.) [hereinafter Summary of Recommendations].

290. Final Report, supra note 287.

291. Action Taken by the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Final report on the Task Force for the Recodification of the Children's Code 5­7 (n.d.) [hereinafter Action].

292. Summary of Recommendations, supra note 289, at 1­5.

293. Action, supra note 291, at 35­43.

294.Id. at 35.

295. Id. at 37.

296. Telephone Interview with Pat Cervera, Juvenile Justice Specialist, and Joe Thome, Program Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice, Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice (Jan. 6, 1997) [hereinafter Cervera and Thome Interview].

297. Id. According to officials, all the bills but the child welfare initiative passed. It is expected to be reintroduced in the 1997 legislative session.

298. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19­2­102 (1996).

299. State of Colo. Offices of Legislative Legal Services and Legislative Council, Juvenile Justice HB 96­1005 (Mar. 1996).

300. Colorado Department of Human Services & Division of Youth Corrections, Summary of House Bill 96­1005, The Colorado Juvenile Justice System.

301. Cervera and Thome Interview, supra note 296.

302. Recodification, supra note 283.

303. Cervera and Thome Interview, supra note 296.

304. Id.

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