2019 Legislative Session

In 2018, in partnership with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, Governor Hickenlooper launched the Improving Outcomes for Youth Task Force to explore and recommend juvenile justice reform.  The Task Force was led by Democratic Rep. Pete Lee and Republican Sen. Bob Gardner, and included members of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of Colorado government.  CJDC’s former Executive Director, Jeff Cuneo, was appointed and served as a voting member of this important initiative.

For further information on the Improving Outcomes for Youth Task Force, here are some additional news articles:

Colorado Launches Comprehensive Review of Juvenile Justice System

Bob Gardner and Pete Lee Join Forces on Juvenile Justice

State to Review the Juvenile Justice System

In 2019, the Task Force’s legislative recommendations were introduced and passed into law in the Juvenile Justice Reform Bill (SB 19- 108).  The Bill made substantial changes to diversion funding and eligibility, detention eligibility, and probation.  The bill also established an ongoing Juvenile Justice Reform Committee, tasked with adopting a validated risk and needs assessment tool to be used by juvenile courts, DYS, juvenile probation, and parole; selecting a mental health screening tool for juvenile offenders; selecting a validated risk screening tool to be used by district attorneys in determining a juvenile’s eligibility for diversion; selecting a vendor to assist in the implementation of, and training on, the tools; and developing plans for measuring the effectiveness of the tools.

The Bill made clear that detention is harmful to children, and that children should not be detained unless necessary, through a legislative declaration:

The placement of children in a detention facility exacts a negative impact on the mental and physical well-being of the child, and such detention may make it more likely that the child will reoffend.  Children who are detained are more likely to penetrate deeper into the juvenile justice system than similar children who are detained, and community-based alternatives to detention should be based on the principle of using the least-restrictive setting possible and returning a child to his or her home, family, or other responsible adult whenever possible consistent with public safety.  It is the intent of the general assembly in adopting section 19-2-507.5 and amending sections 19-2-212, 19-2-507, and 19-2-508 to limit the use of detention to only those children who pose a substantial risk of serious harm to others or that are a flight risk from prosecution.

Beginning on July 1, 2020, the law limits the circumstances under which a child may be detained.  For example, a child may no longer be detained solely because she is a danger to herself, or because she is awaiting out-of-home placement through a petition in delinquency or neglect.  A child may only be detained if: (a) probable cause exists to believe the juvenile committed the delinquent act charged; (b) the detention screening instrument resulted in a detention-eligible score or there is a valid override of the screening score; and (c) the juvenile poses a substantial risk of serious harm to others or a substantial risk of flight from prosecution and community-based alternatives to detention are insufficient to reasonably mitigate that risk.  Flight from prosecution means more than simply failing to appear; it means a demonstrated record of repeat, recent willful failures to appear at scheduled court appearances.

SB 19-108 also recognized the importance of diversion opportunities for children by expanding funding for diversion to every district statewide, and enacting a new definition and common set of goals for diversion: preventing further involvement in the legal system; providing an alternative to adjudication for juveniles that requires only the least amount of supervision and conditions necessary to decrease the juvenile’s risk of reoffending; serving the best interest of the juvenile while encouraging accountability and restoring harm to victims and communities; reducing the likelihood of reoffending and improving positive outcomes for juveniles through services that address the youth’s needs; and ensuring the availability of appropriate diversion services for all eligible juveniles.

Under SB 19-108, a child may not be denied diversion because of: an inability to pay; previous or current involvement with the Department of Human Services or the Department of Social Services; age, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation; or legal representation. To create additional consistency in eligibility across judicial districts, SB19-108 requires that beginning January 1, 2021, diversion eligibility must be informed by a risk screening tool selected by the state’s Juvenile Justice Reform Committee.  Diversion programs and services will be required to collect and submit data annually for all juveniles participating in diversion and DCJ will provide annual program level reports to District Attorney’s offices and the state legislature.