In 2020, the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General issued a Directive Establishing Policies, Practices, and Procedures to Promote Juvenile Justice Reform. Please watch the videos we created to help you better understand the new Juvenile Justice Reforms.
This Directive is intended to build upon these successes and push forward the next phase of New Jersey’s Juvenile Justice Reform efforts. This Directive outlines five mechanisms available to police officers and prosecutors to divert youth from the juvenile justice system and limit the likelihood of unnecessary detention:
A curbside warning is an informal “talking to”—one that typically arises when an officer observes a juvenile engage in some minor act of delinquency. The conversation occurs in the community, not at the police department, and can be as simple as an officer telling a teenager to “knock it off” without any further formal proceedings. Curbside warnings demonstrate to juveniles that officers are present to give guidance, direction, and assistance, and not simply to take them into custody.
A stationhouse adjustment is more formal than a curbside warning but is nonetheless designed to divert a juvenile from the juvenile justice system without the filing of charges. In such situations, an officer typically asks the juvenile and a parent or guardian/caregiver/designee to come to the police station to discuss an alleged offense and work together to develop an appropriate resolution, which is then memorialized in a written agreement. The officer may refer the juvenile for social services and, if property has been stolen or damaged, require the juvenile to make restitution in some form. The goal is to engage the parent or guardian/caregiver/designee—and, where appropriate, the victim—in any resolution, allowing the family and community resources to address the violation rather than the courts.
Use of complaint-summonses in lieu of complaint warrants
In more serious cases, an officer may conclude that an informal resolution is unlikely to be effective and that formal charges are necessary. Under court rules, officers and prosecutors may file charges using one of two charging documents: a “complaint-warrant,” which allows the officer to take custody of the charged individual and detain them, or a “complaint-summons,” which allows the individual to remain in the community until their initial court appearance. By treating the complaint-summons as the “default” charging document for juveniles—with the complaint warrant reserved only for the most serious charges or to protect the public—officers and prosecutors can ensure that youthful offenders are not subject to unnecessary detention in a juvenile facility immediately following the filing of charges.
Presumption against pretrial juvenile detention
A juvenile cannot be detained pretrial without the permission of a judge or Court Intake Services. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-34(b). State law carefully circumscribes the use of pretrial juvenile detention, limiting it to cases where a juvenile has failed to appear at court proceedings or where, for certain categories of offenses, the juvenile’s release would seriously threaten the physical safety of persons or property in the community. See N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-34(c). This presumption against detention ensures that the majority of juveniles accused of delinquency remain in the community during their court proceedings, allowing them to draw on their communities for support and rehabilitative services. However, nothing in this Directive prevents law enforcement or prosecutors from seeking pretrial juvenile detention when the criteria set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-34(c) exists.
Post-charge diversion by prosecutors
The mere fact that a law enforcement officer has filed charges against a juvenile does not preclude the possibility of diverting the youth into other programs more conducive to rehabilitation. As a juvenile matter proceeds, prosecutors can—and should—continually evaluate the case to determine whether diversion would better accomplish the goals of the juvenile justice system over formal court proceedings. A prosecutor may consider, among other things, dismissing the complaint in favor of a stationhouse adjustment or referring the case to diversionary programs operated by the judiciary, including the Intake Service Conference, the Juvenile Conference Committee, or the Family Crisis Intervention Unit.