National Campaign to Reform State Juvenile Justice Systems

By Clinic Professor Chris Northrop

I received an interesting call last spring from Donald Ross. Donald is a founding partner of M + R, a public relations firm that works with non-profits throughout the country and around the world. Donald called on behalf of the National Campaign to Reform State Juvenile Justice Systems (NCRJJ). NCRJJ is a campaign designed to help states move from punitive to rehabilitative juvenile justice.

Taylor Sampson '15 and Emily WeinbergerDonald let me know that NCRJJ hoped to add Maine to their list of states enacting significant legislative reforms.
In response to this opportunity, I assembled a crack team of student fellows, Taylor Sampson (Maine Law Class of 2015, Cushman D. Anthony Summer Clinical Fellow), Elizabeth Boardman (Maine Law Class of 2015, Juvenile Justice Policy Summer Intern) and Emily Weinberger (Bowdoin College Class of 2015, Bowdoin’s Forest Foundation Summer Clinic Fellow.

I also called in some of Maine’s top juvenile justice advocates to collaborate with the law school, and help us create a legislative agenda. We talked with everyone – district attorneys, defenders, judges, teachers, school resource officers, probation officers, parents, and children for ideas about what problem areas should be our priorities for reform. Our list of issues expanded to unmanageable proportions very quickly, and we asked NCRJJ to fund a coordinator to restore order. We were fortunate enough to recruit Jill Ward (Professor Tom Ward’s daughter) for the job; she is a seasoned veteran of juvenile justice policy fights on the national level. Jill and I tasked our team of fellows with significant research about each issue on our docket. With their help, we determined which problems lent themselves to legislative or rule fixes, and which issues required more time, research and discussion.

Here is our 2015 agenda:
Four legislative fixes:

  1. Stopping the practice of indiscriminate shackling of children in delinquency court
  2. More comprehensive sealing of juvenile records
  3. Allowing for the implementation of more restorative justice practices
  4. Expansion of court appointed counsel for juveniles

One rule change:

  1. Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services creating a specialized panel for juvenile appeals and post-conviction reviews

Now the fun really begins. We just finished our first drafts of legislation and rule amendments. Next week Jill, Donald and I are interviewing lobbyists (yes, NCRJJ will provide money for that as well). We will need to finalize our proposed legislation, line up a few lead Republicans and Democrats to sponsor our bill, and submit the package by the deadline for proposed legislation.

Our plan is to have Emily, Taylor and Elizabeth in Augusta helping our lobbyist, attending legislative work sessions and making sure our governor signs the bill into law next June. We are confident NCRJJ will list Maine as one of the states that enacted important juvenile justice legislation in response to their call to action.