Juvenile Justice

Kids Count Utah: A Data Book on the Measures of Child Well-Being in Utah, 2021 is the first glance at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Utah’s children. Please click on the button below for the full report. 

2021 UTAH KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK

Children under the age of 18 make up a third of the state’s population. Not surprisingly, Utah children and their families faced additional challenges as a result of living through a global pandemic.

Unfortunately, over 10 percent of Utah children are experiencing poverty. Additionally, since 2019 Utah saw an increase of over 4,000 additional children considered to be in Intergenerational Poverty (IGP). More children caught in a cycle of IGP is concerning as it could mean that their own children may continue that same cycle if their economic situation does not improve.

Providing a quality education to children during the pandemic continues to be a challenge. The most recent data shows that student proficiency assessment results decreased over the past year. And data also shows that many children are not receiving the mental health treatment they need. A new data indicator shared in the 2021 data book looked at access to mental health. The data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health shows that approximately 60% of three- to 17-year-olds struggling with mental health are not receiving treatment.

Voices for Utah Children hopes that the yearly KIDS COUNT data book project and the publication of Measuring of Child Well-Being in Utah continues to be a valuable resource that can provide guidance to both policymakers and the general public on how to improve the lives and futures of Utah children.

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This October we celebrate Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), a month of bringing awareness to and encouraging and inspiring action on behalf of young people that have and are currently being impacted by our criminal justice system.

Voices is committed to advocating for a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system and do so through assessing current juvenile justice policies and practices as well as partnering with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice on key initiatives.

Below you will find recommendations for system involved youth and their families when interacting with the court system, along with other information and research in support of a more equitable juvenile justice system.

We also invite you to join us on October 20th as we celebrate Youth Justice Action Month with an online showcase highlighting and elevating youth voices including those that have had experience in the juvenile justice system. 


Recommendations for Utah Policymakers, Courts, and Youth & Families 


In August, we released a new report, Who's Helping Kids in Utah Courts? in which we assessed Utah's system for ensuring that all children in juvenile delinquency court are being represented by a defense attorney through a series of court observations.

The report had some good news to celebrate including that over the past two years, Utah children appearing in juvenile court without a defense attorney decreased from 33% statewide to less than 5%, revealing that Utah children now almost never waive their right to an attorney. 

Furthermore, our findings lead to several recommendations for policy makers, the juvenile courts, and youth and their families that are system involved. These recommendations are available in both English and Spanish. 

Who's Helping Kids in Utah Courts?: Executive Summary & Recommendations  English | Spanish


Juvenile Record Expungement Clinic (Register by Friday, October 8) 


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We are pleased to partner with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice & Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys in their efforts to provide a virtual juvenile delinquency record expungement clinic on October 29, 2021 and is providing FREE assistance with applications for expungement.

The clinic is open to individuals with juvenile delinquency cases which were originally processed in Salt Lake County, Tooele County or Summit County.

The deadline to apply is October 8th. Space is limited and registration is required. Register today at: bit.ly/expunge123 Questions? Please email

And Yet We Rise: October 20, 2021 at 3:30pm 


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In recognition of October as Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), we have partnered with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice to host a free, public, virtual event at 3:30pm on October 20, 2021. And Yet We Rise will elevate the voices of young people, including those who have experience in the juvenile justice system, through a variety of formats interwoven into an online showcase. Leaders, both youth and adult, will be awarded for their service and commitment to the juvenile justice system. Register here today! 


Recent Reports and Information 


Below is a list of recent publications in regards to supporting a more equitable juvenile justice system in Utah. 


Racial & Ethnic Disparities Advisory Committee


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The Utah Board of Juvenile Justice (UBJJ) has a state Racial and Ethnic Disparities Advisory Committee that is dedicated to addressing racial and ethnic disparities at key points in the youth justice system. The committee has county-level working groups in areas with the highest concentration of youth of color: Salt Lake, Utah, and Weber. If you are passionate about youth justice and would like to get involved, please contact Alyssha Dairsow at

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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. 

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We appreciate the many legislators that supported bills affecting children. In summary, it WAS a good year for kids, but we still have plenty to do and we look forward to working together to #investinutahkids!

Early Childhood

Early childhood care and education had several key wins. The legislature approved:

  •  $7m in new funding for Optional Enhanced Kindergarten (which many districts use, with other funding sources, to offer full-day kindergarten)

  • $3m in new funding for School Readiness grants (to support high-quality preschool programs)

  • $5m in newly restored funding for preK-3 teacher professional development.

  • In addition, new legislation directed expansion in eligibility for working families to receive state childcare support, and several bills aimed to create efficiencies and financial stability for the childcare providers these working families rely on. 

Juvenile Justice

In the area of Juvenile Justice, legislators approved several bills that continue the state’s effort to refine ongoing efforts to reform and improve the juvenile justice system, which included:

  • A bold bill outlining and clarifying the Miranda rights of youth who are interrogated by police (ensuring that either parents or attorneys are present for such questioning.

  • An innovative pilot program to offer youth in secure care access to college courses through Dixie State University.

  • Finally, school-based discipline and the role of School Resource Officers (SROs) received some attention, with legislators giving a moratorium on criminal enforcement of state truancy laws during the remaining months of the pandemic and providing additional direction with regard to SRO training in public schools. 

Health

We were thrilled to see our Legislature take significant steps to prioritize children’s health coverage this Session and reduce Utah’s too-high number of uninsured children.

  • House Bill 262 (Representative Welton) provides ongoing funding for CHIP/Medicaid outreach so that more families can connect with affordable health insurance options for their kids. In addition, Senate Bill 158 would have removed barriers to health insurance, so all Utah children could get covered and keep their coverage.

  • In addition to children’s coverage, we saw important steps forward for children’s access to mental health this legislative Session including HB 337, sponsored by Representative Eliason, which will allow more early childhood providers to receive valuable training in infant mental health and also strengthen statewide systems to respond to the mental health needs of young children.

  • The legislature also made changes to ensure that funding for Utah’s maternal mental health program and awareness campaign were made permanent; thanks to Representative Dailey-Provost for championing this change for families.

  • Finally, the legislature also passed a bill that will make it easier for kids to access preventive dental health care. Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler, allows dental hygienists to bill Medicaid, which will help promote greater access to dental care in school-based and childcare settings. 

Cover All Kids Campaign Update

Senate Bill 158 passed the Senate with broad support, but unfortunately it was not funded. We look forward to continuing to support the bill sponsor, Senator Luz Escamilla, and floor sponsor, Representative Francis Gibson, to get this important bill across the finish line next year.

Continuous Medicaid Eligibility Update

Unfortunately, the Legislature did not restore state funding for continuous eligibility for children on Medicaid ages 0-5. Continuous eligibility was funded in the 2020 General Session but eliminated as part of budgetary cuts over the summer. Continuous eligibility guarantees children will have a year of stable Medicaid coverage, as they already have with CHIP. The good news is that thanks to temporary federal requirements, all children currently have this option. However, when the federal public health emergency ends, this option will end too, which could lead to significant loss and disruptions in children’s coverage if state funding is not restored. This past year has shown us just how vital it is that all children and families across Utah have access to health care and coverage. Stable, affordable health coverage for all Utahns will be critical to our state’s ability to rebound and recover.

Other Legislative Priorities 

During this past legislative session, we were happy to support a number of bills that are “good for kids” outside of our main policy priorities including the following bills that include policies that we will continue to work on this upcoming year!

  • We supported and are glad to continue working with the International Rescue Committee on supporting our immigrant and refugee families through HCR 22: Concurrent Resolution Celebrating the Contributions of Multilingual and Multicultural Families to Utah Schools. 
  • HB 338: School District Voter Eligibility Amendments would have created a pathway for school districts to choose whether students age 16-17 can vote in their local elections. It was led by a young person, Dhati Oomen, but unfortunately did not pass. We will continue to further advocate for greater youth civic engagement through this bill and beyond.

  • Lastly, we supported and advocated for SB 214: Official Language Amendments as a positive first step to ensure we have greater language inclusion in our state. While we recognize that this is not a full repeal of the 2000 “English-only” law, this bill does remove funding restrictions and “official communications that exist” while keeping English as the official language in place.  We will continue to work on ensuring this law is repealed completely in the coming year.

Tax and Budget

Tax cuts were a big item of discussion, and there were three tax cuts passed:

  • There was an $18 million Social Security Income Tax Credit

  • $24 million Military Retirement Income Tax Credit

  • $55 million Tax Cut tied to the personal exemption related to the dependent tax credit.  

Voices opposed these three items as they were primarily a benefit to the top 40% of taxpayers and excluded the lowest-income 40% almost entirely.  

We were also advocating for a $7 million Earned Income Tax Credit equal to 10% of the federal EITC targeted to Utahns in intergenerational poverty. This was passed in December 2019 as part of the tax restructuring law that was repealed in the 2020 Session. Lastly, there were two bills to lower the State Income Tax Rate, which did not pass. We were opposed to both bills for a number of reasons.  The cuts would have led to a more regressive tax structure and depriving us of much needed future revenues.

We have many unfunded needs and it is our opinion that we should not cut taxes any further until we address those needs and provide the required funds.

>> Check out our Facebook page for FB Live updates of each policy area. 

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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