Justice reform, particularly juvenile justice reform is on the minds of many Lawmakers. Two bills were introduced in the North Dakota House this session. Both will affect Mandan’s Youth Correctional Center.
The first is House bill 1039:
It will change the age someone can be prosecuted and sent to the correction center from seven to ten years old.
The Director of the Division of Juvenile Services at the YCC says it’s all in an attempt to fix youth behavior through family intervention services instead of throwing kids into the system too early.
She says the law allowing seven-year-olds to end up in jail has been around since the pioneer ages, and ten is the first step in raising the age to 12 or even higher.
The Director, Lisa Bjergaard adds, “It seems, doesn’t it, as though there are some things we can do with children and families, so that we don’t need to use the juvenile justice system to intervene with children that young.”
The second, is House Bill 1076:
It defines who is old enough to be transferred from youth corrections to adult centers. The newly introduced bill mandates that someone has to be at least 18 before he or she can be transferred to an adult facility.
But, the current law allows kids as young as 16 to be transferred if its deemed necessary.
Bjergaard says, although she could likely count on her fingers and toes how many 16 to 18 year olds are actually transferred each year, it’s important to make the number zero.
She explains, “The bill’s intent is to line North Dakota Century Code with federal law. Federal law prohibits persons under the age of 18 from being in adult prisons, and this bill just lines our law up with what the feds are already asking us to do.”
The Juvenile Services Director says she fully expects both bills to pass without much issue.