Oregon Juvenile Justice Laws Change This Year

Learn about some of the major law changes affecting the juvenile justice system.

In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed and the governor signed a comprehensive juvenile justice reform bill titled Senate Bill 1008.

The new law went into effect Jan. 1, 2020. The changes set forth in the law are intended to make Oregon’s juvenile system fairer, help reduce victimization, and increase positive outcomes for youth.

Below is an overview of some of the changes.

What does Senate Bill 1008 do?

  • All youth accused of criminal conduct will start in juvenile court, even for Measure 11 crimes. Previously, youth charged with Measure 11 crimes — which include serious crimes against people — automatically went to adult court and were subject to the measure’s mandatory sentencing. Now, to move a youth to the adult system, prosecutors need to request a hearing with a judge. The judge will decide whether to move the case to adult court. This applies to all youth who committed their crime before age 18.
  • All youth convicted in adult court who have a sentence longer than two years are eligible for a “Second Look” hearing halfway through their sentence. The youth has a chance to show they have been rehabilitated, and their victim also has a right to be heard. A judge then determines whether the youth has taken responsibility for their crime. If approved, the youth would serve the rest of their sentence under community-based supervision, instead of being incarcerated.
  • Youth can no longer be sentenced to life without parole. Anyone receiving a life sentence for a crime they committed when they were under 18 must have an opportunity for parole after 15 years of incarceration.
  • Some youth will get a transfer hearing before moving to adult prison. Youth convicted as adults can stay in OYA facilities until age 25. At that time, if they have less than two years left in their sentence, they will receive a transfer hearing. A judge will decide whether the youth should finish their sentence in adult prison or on community-based supervision.

When does it take effect?

  • Jan. 1, 2020. It is not retroactive, so it is only intended to apply to youth convicted after the law takes effect.

What is OYA doing to address the changes?

  • Working with a broad coalition of stakeholders to implement the law. OYA has been part of a steering committee to discuss how to handle pending cases, updates to Second Look rules, what services are available to youth, and clarification of several parts of the law. The committee includes representatives from the legislature, the courts, district attorneys and defense attorneys, victims’ advocates, Department of Corrections, and the county juvenile departments.
  • Implementing a higher level of parole review for youth who commit Measure 11 crimes and other sensitive cases that are adjudicated in the juvenile system. Before being approved for parole, these youth will have to go through an additional review with a committee that includes at least two OYA assistant directors.
  • Clarifying our case planning process and criteria for determining whether incarcerated youth are ready for release. We’re coming up with a clearer, more objective list of developmental milestones that incarcerated youth will need to meet before they are ready for release. We want to make sure we use the right criteria to balance community safety with the developmental approach.

Why were these changes proposed?

  • Young people are different than adults, and the justice system should treat them differently. Experts tell us that the human brain gets built in an ongoing construction project that continues into at least our mid-20s. Youth are works-in-progress with tremendous capacity for growth and change. Thus, we should take a different approach with youth who commit crimes than what we do with adults.
  • Youth are twice as likely to commit new crimes when they serve time in adult prisons. This law allows more youth to remain in the juvenile system with environments that are suitable to their developmental needs, where they can learn and grow to develop internal accountability. This will improve their chances of rehabilitation and lead to safer communities.
  • Youth will have more motivation to change. With more opportunities for incarcerated youth to earn release to community supervision, many of them will be motivated to show they have changed by demonstrating positive behaviors and engaging in treatment and education.
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