Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act (Senate Bill 108) on May 28—a crucial step toward aligning the state’s juvenile justice system with what research shows works to improve outcomes for youth, strengthen public safety, and efficiently use resources.
Among other things, the legislation will
- Expand opportunities to divert youth from the juvenile justice system;
- Adopt and implement a validated risk and needs assessment tool to inform court decision-making and case planning;
- Limit the use of detention (pre-sentence incarceration) to only those juveniles who pose a public safety risk; and
- Develop statewide standards for juvenile probation supervision and services that align with research-based practices.
Colorado Senators Bob Gardner (R) and Pete Lee (D), who sponsored the legislation along with Representatives Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D) and Matt Soper (R), joined the governor as he signed the bill.
New commitments to Colorado’s Division of Youth Services (DYS) have decreased 22 percent since 2013, but approximately half of the youth discharged from DYS’s custody between fiscal year (FY) 2013 and FY2016 reentered the system after two or three years. During the same period, 35 percent of youth who completed juvenile probation had a subsequent case filed within three years of discharge.
Between FY2013 and FY2017, detention admissions declined 18 percent, but almost half of these admissions were the result of a violation, rather than a new offense. More than half of the youth who are screened using the Juvenile Detention Screening and Assessment Guide and receive a score requiring a mandatory hold in secure detention are not assessed as being a public safety risk.
In addition, approximately 49 percent of petty misdemeanor offenses, such as marijuana possession and minor theft, that end up in district court result in some form of system supervision, including probation.
To break these cycles, in May 2018, then Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper officially launched the Improving Outcomes for Youth (IOYouth) initiative and established an interbranch task force co-chaired by Sens. Gardner and Lee. The task force—which included legislators, judges, attorneys, service providers, probation officers, law enforcement representatives, and other stakeholders—led a comprehensive review of Colorado’s juvenile justice system. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization, helped guide the analysis and assisted the task force in developing data-driven policy options to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for youth, which were translated into the Juvenile Justice Reform Act.
IOYouth is a project of the National Reentry Resource Center and is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Learn more about the CSG Justice Center’s assessment of Colorado’s juvenile justice system.