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New Jersey teens convicted of a juvenile crime still have rights

Everyone makes mistakes and must subsequently reap the consequences of their actions. Fortunately, New Jersey has laws in place to help protect the legal rights and physical well-being of anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offense in our state, especially juveniles. Recently, however, the treatment of young people convicted of committing a juvenile crime has been called into question by advocacy groups and one well-known university.

Our state's Juvenile Justice Commission has recently partnered with Rutgers University in a settlement over claims that two teenage boys were kept in solitary confinement for unreasonable periods of time. The JJC and Rutgers have reportedly agreed to pay out $400,000 to settle the lawsuit. The lawsuit has raised serious questions from juvenile advocacy groups as to whether New Jersey's rules on solitary confinement for juveniles should be reformed.

The lawsuit originated in defense of two teenage boys. One of the boys had been in state care since he was a toddler and suffered from mental illness that was never completely resolved. After receiving a sentence of two years in juvenile detention, the lawsuit claims that -- of the 225 days that he spent in detention -- 178 of those days he was in solitary confinement. The lawsuit further contends that during this time, the teenager was not allowed personal effects and was only allowed out during short durations for hygienic needs. According to the lawsuit, the second teenage boy was kept in solitary confinement for a total of 50 days in a period from 2009 to 2010.

Under the settlement terms, a U.S. District Court approved a $130,000 payment to the first teenager, and a $20,000 payment to the mother of the second teenager who was killed in 2012. The remainder of the $400,000 will be applied to court and attorney fees. Advocates for juvenile rights hope that this case will be a catalyst for change in the juvenile justice system.

So far, five states across the country have banned the practice of solitary confinement of juveniles. While New Jersey still allows the practice, the idea is to use solitary to maintain order, control and safety. Individuals convicted of committing a juvenile crime still have legal rights that must be upheld. It is important that they seek the appropriate aid if they believe that these rights have been violated.

Source: nj.com, $400K awarded to settle lawsuit over solitary confinement of 2 N.J. boys, Ryan Hutchins, Jan. 3, 2014

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