Juvenile Justice

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Children’s Budget Report Finds Utah Is Spending More On Children Than Ever Before, But Education Funding Effort Is At A Record Low

Salt Lake City, December 9, 2021 - Voices for Utah Children, the state’s leading children’s policy advocacy organization, released its biennial Children's Budget Report.  The report, published every other year, measures how much (before and after inflation) the state invests every year in Utah’s children by dividing all state programs concerning children (which add up to about half of the overall state budget) into seven categories, without regard to their location within the structure of state government. The seven categories are as follows, in descending order by dollar value (adding state and federal funds together):

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Public investment in children should be understood as a central component of Utah’s economic development strategy.  Examining how much Utah invests in children can help the state evaluate whether it is maximizing the potential of our future workforce through our investment in human capital. 

This is especially important given the rapid demographic changes taking place in our state. The 2020 Census found that 30% of Utahns under 18 are members of a racial or ethnic minority (almost one-third of our future workforce), compared to just 24% in 2010. The investments we make today in reducing racial and ethnic gaps among Utah’s children will enable the state to thrive and prosper for generations to come

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Report highlights are as follows
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Good News: Utah is investing more in the next generation now than ever before, both overall and on a per-child basis

spending per kid

Not-so-good News: The non-K-12 Education portion of the Children’s Budget peaked on a per-child basis in FY 2016 and has fallen since then by 2%

non educ spend per kid

Bad News: Utah’s education funding effort continues to fall to record low levels

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Additional Trends: Changes in Funding by Source 

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Trends in Education Funding: UT beat ID for 49th place, still far behind US overall 

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 MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE CHILDREN'S BUDGET REPORT:

Facebook Live Event presenting the 2021 Children's Budget Report, major findings and summaries of all the categories of funding that impact children in Utah.  https://fb.watch/9O05ECPAHi/

 KSL: https://www.ksl.com/article/50308739/utah-children-drowning-in-unmet-needs-according-to-new-budget-report?utm_source=Salt+Lake+Tribune&utm_campaign=93649b5bb5-rundown_12_10_2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dc2415ff28-93649b5bb5-45560674

KRCL: https://krcl.org/blog/radioactive-110821/ 

Published in News & Blog

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We are proud to release a new report on Utah's system for ensuring that all children appearing in juvenile delinquency court are represented by a defense attorney. And we are happy to report that there is some good news to celebrate in this area of our advocacy work! 

In the past two years, the frequency of Utah children appearing in juvenile court without a defense attorney has decreased from about 33% statewide to less than 5%. This new report reveals that Utah children now almost never waive their right to an attorney.

"Who's Helping Kids in Court?" is a follow-up to our 2019 report, "And Justice For All...Kids: A Child's Right to the 'Guiding Hand of Counsel and the State of Defense Representation for Children in Utah's Juvenile Courts," which also explored the issue of whether children in Utah delinquency courts are being given the legal support to which they are entitled. 

Read and/or download the full report here. 

The right of young people to be represented by an attorney in delinquency court proceedings was established in the landmark case In Gault, 387 US 1 (1967). In that case, the Supreme Court articulated that multiple due process rights must be afforded to children who are facing charges in a juvenile court. 

Despite the clearly established rights of young people, both under Gault and in subsequent important legal decisions, many states - including Utah - have struggled for decades to put these promised protections in practice. As this update report shows, though, major policy changes made between 2018 and 2020 appear to have had a very positive impact on the practical fulfillment of Utah children’s right to an attorney.

The key findings presented in this report, for which our team of court observers viewed more than 250 distinct juvenile court hearings across the state, are as follows: 

  • Overwhelmingly, young people appearing in juvenile delinquency hearings did not waive their right to be represented by an attorney.
  • Juvenile delinquency hearings rarely proceeded without defense counsel present, regardless of where the hearing was held in the state.
  • While Utah’s juvenile court judges rarely needed to explain the right to counsel to youth appearing in their (virtual) courtrooms, they regularly reviewed other key rights.
  • Defense attorney attendance at hearings does not necessarily translate into quality legal counsel for the young people they represent.

Children who have a defense attorney almost always have better legal outcomes in delinquency court than those who don’t. Because court involvement can have lifelong impacts for youth, we have worked with many partners over the past two years to pass positive legislation and enact better practices. "Who's Helping Kids in Court?" shows that these changes, particularly the passage of SB32 during the 2019 legislative session, have worked to vastly improve Utah's ability to ensure children receive the legal representation to which they are legally entitled.

SB32, "Indigent Defense Act Amendments," created a “statutory presumption of indigency” for all youth appearing in juvenile court, eliminating for youth and their families the burdensome process of proving that they were poor enough to receive a state-appointed public defender. This means youth are less likely to appear without legal counsel in the early stages of the delinquency process. Early automatic appointment also seems to reduce opportunities for parental/familial influence over a young person’s decision to waive their right to an attorney. SB32 also ensured that youth would be less likely to appear in review hearings, where their progress on court orders is discussed, without their attorney present. SB32 made clear that only in rare circumstances would a judge release a public defender from representing a client before conclusion of the case.

Read and/or download the full report here.

In addition to our primary findings, our report also discusses the following additional conclusions: 

  • Online hearings offer several clear advantages that should be balanced against the legal and practical benefits of traditional, in-person hearings. Improvements must be made, though, to incorporate online hearings as a future option.
    • Management of professionalism, protocol and participation seemed to be a challenge in some online courtrooms.
    • Hearings were often delayed or interrupted due to technical issues.
    • Using a single Webex link for a full day of hearings created confusion, and potentially compromised youth and family privacy in sensitive situations.
    • Online-only hearings may interfere with some judges’ ability to connect with the youth appearing before them.
  • Juvenile court judges’ expertise at interacting with young people - including building rapport, interpreting youth expression and inspiring cooperation - varies widely. Some judges’ inability to communicate effectively with young people may seriously limit their capacity to positively influence children appearing in their courtroom.
  • There appear to be persistent difficulties for youth and families who require court interpreters. These challenges likely create serious equity issues for youth appearing in juvenile delinquency court.

In response to our findings, we make several recommendations in this report for policymakers, for the juvenile courts, and also for youth and their families. Those recommendations, if fulfilled, would build upon the progress Utah is already making in the administration of justice for Utah children who become court-involved. As Utah continues to successfully reduce both the size and the negative impacts of its juvenile justice system, we are pleased to report on this additional area of progress, as well as offer constructive feedback for future improvements. 

Published in News & Blog

Salt Lake City - Voices for Utah Children released publicly today (January 6, 2021)  "#InvestInUtahKids: An Agenda for Utah's New Governor and Legislature," the first major publication of our new #InvestInUtahKids initiative. 

Utah begins a new era in this first week of January, with the swearing in of a new Governor and Lt. Governor and a new Legislature. The arrival of 2021 marks the first time in over a decade that the state has seen this kind of leadership transition. Last month Voices for Utah Children began sharing with the Governor-elect and his transition teams the new publication, and on Wednesday morning Voices will share it with the public as well.

The new publication raises concerns about the growing gaps among Utah's different racial, ethnic, and economic groups and lays out the most urgent and effective policies to close those gaps and help all Utah children achieve their full potential in the years to come in five policy areas: 

  • Early education 
  • K-12 education 
  • Healthcare
  • Juvenile justice
  • Immigrant family justice

The report, which was initially created in December and distributed to the incoming Governor and his transition teams, closes with a discussion of how to pay for the proposed #InvestInUtahKids policy agenda. The pdf of the report can be downloaded here

Published in News & Blog
July 30, 2020

Juvenile Justice

Dedicated to creating a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system 

Utah’s juvenile justice system has a lot to be proud of.  Thanks to legislative and community efforts over the last several years, our system has become smaller, less punitive, and more youth-centered. Youth and their families now have greater access to early interventions that prevent court-involvement, rather than only having access to support and help once misconduct occurs. State and local stakeholders utilize more evidence-based programming, and make decisions driven by data and collaboration. 

Equity, however, remains an elusive goal for Utah’s reform efforts. Despite many strong policy reforms, children of color still are overrepresented in our juvenile justice system. This is true from the first point of contact with law enforcement and other authority figures, all the way to secure care adjudications for youth who are deep in the system. Children who identify as LGBTQ+, have disabilities and come from low-income families also struggle to have their needs met within our system. 

We want to ensure that all youth have access to interventions and supports that work for them and for their families. These resources should be available early and often, before youth misbehavior becomes dangerous for the youth themselves, as well as for the broader community. Voices for Utah Children is dedicated to promoting policies and recommendations that contribute to a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system for all Utah youth.

Published in 2020 Issues
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While racial and ethnic disparities in the system have always been part of the reform conversation, equitable treatment and representation of all children (regardless of race and/or ethnicity) was not an explicit goal. So, four years later, how has our juvenile justice system improved with regard to equity?

The more pointed question is, has our system improved at all when it comes to the equitable treatment of children of color?

Voices for Utah Children is proud to announce the release of our new report, “Striving for Equity in Utah’s Juvenile Justice System,” an update to a collaborative 2017 report on racial and ethnic disparities in Utah’s juvenile justice system. 

Co-authored by policy analysts Ciriac Alvarez Valle and Anna Thomas, “Striving for Equity” shows that while enormous strides have been made in the past four years toward improving Utah’s juvenile justice system, equitable treatment of youth of color remains elusive. While the system overall has shrunk in size - youth arrests, referrals and petitions to court and admissions to locked to detention are all on the decline - youth who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) comprise a growing portion of the court-involved population. 

In our writing of this report, we were unsurprised to learn the following: when efforts to achieve equity are not intentional and direct, equitable outcomes remain elusive. 

While Utah’s juvenile justice system has decreased in size, overall, disparities between different racial/ethnic groups mostly have gotten worse. For example: 

  • In 2015, white children made up about 75% of the school-aged youth population in Utah, and only 58% of petitions to juvenile court. In 2019, white children were 74.2% of the general population, and only 51.8% of petitions to juvenile court. 
  • In 2015, Black children made up slightly more than 1% of the school-aged youth population in Utah - but 5% of all petitions to juvenile court. In 2019, Black children were still close to just 1% of the general population...but made up 6.9% of all petitions to juvenile court. 
  • In 2019, children of color made up the majority of youth in both locked detention and secure care facilities in Utah. In four years, non-white children grew from 43% of locked detention admissions to nearly 51%, and from a disappointing 54% of the secure care population to a staggering 61.2%. 

The report - which uses 2019 data from the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Division of Juvenile Justice Services, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Bureau of Crime Statistics - also explore state progress on recommendations made in the 2017 report, and makes new recommendations for policymakers and community members to pursue in 2020. 

Utah deserves plenty of accolades for juvenile justice system improvements so far; making equity a more explicit goal in the state’s system reform efforts could position Utah’s juvenile justice system as the best in the nation. 

Special thanks to the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs for its support in the development of this report (including layout and design by Ephraim Kum, community engagement intern for the MCA), and also to the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice for its support (specifically from UBJJ/JJOC Co-Directors Kayley Richards and Van Nguyen) in obtaining and clarifying specific data points. 

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