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Juvenile Justice


At NCYL, we believe that children are different from adults and should be treated appropriately for their age and ability to change. We advocate for community based services as an alternative to incarceration, and work to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities within the juvenile justice system. 



Eureka City Schools Settle Lawsuit with National Center for Youth Law, ACLU

District will implement programs to increase inclusiveness, ensure fair discipline

Eureka City Schools has reached a settlement agreement that resolves a lawsuit filed last year by the National Center for Youth Law and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.  Under the agreement, the district will implement a community-wide collaborative process aimed at cultivating a positive and inclusive school climate where all students feel welcome and safe.

View press release here

Attorneys from the National Center for Youth Law, the ACLU of Northern California, and California Indian Legal Services filed lawsuits charging that school officials in the Humboldt County towns of Loleta and Eureka, home to some of the state’s largest Native American communities, intentionally discriminate against Native American and Black students, and students with disabilities, levying disproportionate levels of discipline for minor infractions and forcing them out of mainstream schools at disproportionate rates.

Press Coverage

Students in Dallas County truancy courts are being denied their constitutional rights, handcuffed and arrested for missing school, and subjected to substantial fines, according to a complaint filed June 12, 2013 with the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of seven Dallas area students. 

Attorneys with the National Center for Youth Law, Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas serve as legal counsel to the Complainants. 

View Press Release

AUSTIN, Texas — Bryan Independent School District's use of school resource officers to issue criminal sanctions for a range of minor student misbehavior unlawfully impacts African-American students, who are "cited" at a rate four times that of other students, according to a complaint filed today with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), on behalf of the public interest law center Texas Appleseed and the Brazos County branch of the NAACP.

Attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Center for Youth Law serve as legal counsel to the Complainants. 

View Press Release

On April 3, 2013, at 11:00 a.m. PST, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in collaboration with the National Center for Youth in Custody held a  two-part Webinar exploring the impact of solitary confinement on youth and efforts to strictly limit isolation in confinement settings: “The Impact of Isolation Practices in Confinement Facilities.” 

NCYL's Soros Justice Fellow, Francis V. Guzman was a panelist. Other panelists included advocates, experts, and administrators who have personal and professional experience with the isolation of youth in confinement facilities.

Webinar Toolkit


NCYL Rejects NRA's Call for Armed Security in Schools

The National Center for Youth Law rejects the NRA's call for placing armed security in every school as an extreme and superficial "fix" that is potentially harmful to kids. Research shows that more police in schools does not make kids safer, and, in fact, subjects them to unnecessary scrutiny, harsher discipline, and criminal prosecution for minor misbehavior. We commend President Obama for providing more federal funding to improve school safety and urge him to direct schools to use that money for counselors and psychologists who educate and support children, and not for more police officers. The response to attacks by gunmen with automatic weapons should be to make it much harder to get those weapons. To make our schools truly safer we must address the root causes of violence in our culture and in our schools.

Say NO to the NRA's proposal for more armed guards in schools! 
Sign the Petition

Statement from NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., click here.
Statement from American Psychological Association, click here.
Statement from The Advancement Project, click here.
Statement from Justice Policy Institute, click here.
Statement from Nat'l Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, click here.
Statement from the National Association of School Psychologists, click here.

Juvenile Justice System Reform

The California legislature has passed State Senate Bill 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act! This bill, authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) allows inmates who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles the chance to request a resentencing hearing after serving 15 years.

NCYL is working nationally and in California to ban juvenile life without parole. The United States remains the only country to sentence children to life in prison without parole. Approximately 2,500 youths are serving this sentence, some of them for non-homicide offenses. As the public increasingly recognizes the inhumanity of treating adolescents as adults in the application of criminal laws and penalties, the campaign to eliminate youth sentences of life without parole has gained momentum.

The US Supreme Court ruled June 25, 2012 that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles under 18 violate the 8th Amendment. There are currently 28 states, including California, and the federal government, that allow mandatory life without parole sentences for children.

Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life without parole at age 16. Click on the video below to hear her story.


NCYL is working to reduce the number of children in the Arkansas juvenile justice system and increase funding for community based programs. NCYL and Arkansas’s Division of Youth Services (DYS) have become partners in an effort to improve the system, following a framework for reform outlined in the above report.


NCYL is partnering with civil advocates, attorneys, and courts to divert mentally ill juvenile offenders away from jails and to the mental health services they need. Between 50 and 90 percent of youth incarcerated in California suffer from some form of mental illness, and about 2,000 youth are incarcerated every day simply because community mental health services are unavailable.

Juvenile mental health courts respond to this crisis by diverting mentally ill youth from juvenile jails to community-based mental health services. They focus on treatment rather than punishment.

Read More about Juvenile Mental Health Courts

Keeping Kids Out of Adult Court: California

In California, NCYL is working to reform the practice of filing charges against juveniles in adult court. We are studying "direct file" cases, conducting case reviews, interviews with youth whose cases were directly filed in adult court, and a data analysis to identify trends and causes for the recent increase in direct files.


New Report Analyzes Prosecution of Youth in CA Adult Court
Historically, youth charged with the most serious offenses could be transferred to adult court following a juvenile court hearing to determine if their case was appropriate for adult court. The decision to move a case to adult court rested with the juvenile court judges. However, California Proposition 21, passed in 2000, gave prosecutors authority to file charges directly in adult court without permission from the juvenile court in more serious cases (a process termed “direct file”).

NCYL is working to end the criminalization of youth who misbehave in school. In 2010, Texas issued 420,000 misdemeanor tickets to students for school-based misbehaviors like profanity and truancy. Depending on the jurisdiction, youth who are issued tickets must appear in court, and the tickets are often a youth’s first interaction with the juvenile justice system.

NCYL is also developing a strategy to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, particularly against youth of color. Using exclusionary discipline to address school misbehavior make it more likely the student will drop out, and be on the streets where they come into contact with the juvenile justice system and later, the criminal justice system.

New National Data Show Racial Disparity in School Discipline

Newly released data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals disturbing racial disparities in school discipline. The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) finds youth of color not only face harsher discipline than White students, they are more often referred to law enforcement, and are more likely to be taught by lower-paid and less experienced teachers.

July 11, 2012

No Quick Fix for Disproportionate School Discipline of Black Students

In the wake of a batch of federal data released earlier this year showing minority children are disproportionately disciplined in schools, experts and policy makers say the reasons are complicated and not so easy to explain. But one thing is clear, they say, changing that is going to require a major shift in school philosophy.


Articles and Reports

New Data Shows California Youth Crime At Record Low

After a record plunge in youth crime, fewer youths were arrested in California last year than at any time since 1957, when California had three million fewer teenaged youth.  

Breaking Schools' Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students' Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement

In an unprecedented study of nearly 1 million Texas public secondary school students followed for more than six years, nearly 60 percent were suspended or expelled, according to a 2011 report. 

Race plays role in juvenile sentencing, study finds

A new study by Stanford psychologists revealed that if people picture a juvenile offender as being black, they are more likely to be in favor of harsher sentences for all juvenile offenders. 

BBC iPlayer: The School To Prison Pipeline

Nina Robinson reports from Texas on how the heavy hand of the law in some US schools is criminalizing the very young.


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Photo: Marilyn Nolt
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