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Juvenile Justice Reforms Begin With State Oversight Comittee

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During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed HB 239, a bill to reform Utah’s juvenile justice system. This week the state set up a Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee to start implementing those changes.

The new law will address juvenile justice in a bunch of ways: it will increase options for young people to go to youth courts, restorative justice programs, and counseling, and prioritize home detention rather than putting young people in facilities. Republican Representative Lowry Snow sponsored the legislation.

"Young people do better in terms of recidivism and in terms of the outcomes by, whenever possible, allowing them to have access to their families and be left in the home," Snow says. 

Among a variety of reforms in the new law, the most immediate to go into effect involves school truancy.

"By the time the new school year starts, schools will no longer be able to refer kids to the court for truancy," says Susan Burke, Director of Juvenile Justice Services in Utah.

"I think the challenge is now that when we get to the actual implementation stage, people are concerned about ‘well, what does this really mean. How will this change practice?’" Burke says. 

The new oversight committee and Burke’s office will be working with local communities and schools as the new changes are rolled out.

Representative Snow says in addition to improving recidivism rates, the changes in this law will save the state money. 

"Especially as we divert resources away from out-of-home placement and detention centers, and more to in-home support counseling services," he says. 

Both Snow and Burke say the results will take time but they will be a positive shift for the state and its young people.

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