On Aug. 26, the New Jersey Appellate Court issued a ruling in State of New Jersey in the Interest of J.J., invalidating a Juvenile Justice Commission regulation that allowed the Commission to transfer juveniles directly to adult prison upon turning 18. The Appellate Court wrote: “Because N.J.A.C. 13:91-2.1 provides no due process rights to the juvenile as part of the transfer process, we hold that it is invalid. It does not comply with the statutory requirement that the transfer procedures be "consistent with applicable state and federal standards," particularly the juvenile's rights to due process.”
J.J., who was classified as developmentally disabled, was represented by attorneys Sandra Simkins and Lisa Geis of the Children’s Justice Clinic of the Rutgers School of Law–Camden. J.J. was 17 years old when he was convicted of robbery. It was his first juvenile offense. The Family Court judge, concerned about his mental health issues, committed him to the JJC for a term of four years. Less than one year into his term, he was transferred by the JJC to the Department of Corrections and has been residing at South Woods State Prison, where 75% of inmates are 30 years of age or older, for the past 10 months.
Simkins challenged J.J.’s transfer, which was done with no hearing or opportunity for J.J. to question the transfer, on the grounds that J.J. was denied fundamental due process safeguards. The appellate division agreed: “At a minimum, before a juvenile can be transferred to custody of the DOC, there must be written notice of the proposed transfer and the supporting factual basis, an impartial decision maker, an opportunity to be heard and to present opposition, some form of representation, and written findings of fact supporting a decision to proceed with the transfer.”
J.J.’s case came to the Children’s Justice Clinic as a result of the MacArthur Foundation’s Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network Grant, a partnership between the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender and the Rutgers Schools of Law. “This case clearly demonstrates the importance of post disposition representation in juvenile cases.” said Simkins, director of the Children’s Justice Clinic at Rutgers–Camden. “Following J.J.’s adjudication as a delinquent, had he not been represented throughout the period that he was committed to the custody of JJC, his unlawful transfer to an adult prison would have proceeded without challenge.”
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