Criminals Aged 18 to 20 Would be Tried as Juveniles Under New Bill in California

California elected officials are considering a change to the state’s juvenile justice system where criminals under the age of 21 are automatically tried as minors.

According to the Los Angeles Times, some state probation officers support this idea because they believe that teenagers aren’t mature enough to be held criminally responsible for certain acts like their older, criminal counterparts.

Few details emerged about the legislation introduced at the state Capitol on Tuesday, January 28, 2020.

Senate Bill 889 was put forward in “recognition that people under 21 still need guidance,” said the bill author, State Senator Nancy Skinner.

Skinner cited other laws, such age restrictions on buying tobacco, cannabis and alcohol, which require a person to be 21 as the “adult or responsible age.”

The science says [those] between 18 and 24 have less than fully developed prefrontal cortexes,” claimed Brian Richart, president of the Chief Probation Officers of California, the trade association representing probation officials across California. “Their decision making is inhibited. They act impulsively and we know this, yet we treat them as if they are fully developed.”

“Treating 18- and 19-year-olds as adults makes no … sense in the criminal context,” Skinner argued.

Although the proposal has the support of numerous criminal justice reform organizations, others are skeptical of the legislation. Daniel Macallair, the executive director of the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, said he believes that the Chief Probation Officers are largely supporting the idea as a way to promote job security.

Macallair calls attention to how juvenile arrests have been on the decline during the last few years. Many juvenile halls also have few inmates.

According to statistics from the California Department of Justice, California arrested 17,200 minors under the age of 17 for felonies in 2018. During that same year, around 14,400 people from ages 18 and 19 were arrested on felony charges. Macallair is concerned that individuals considered as juveniles could be behind bars longer than if they went to adult facilities.

“You’ve got juvenile halls that are sitting empty and they are seeking a population to fill it,” Macallair stated. “I think what’s prompting this is not a desire to necessarily do things in a different way, but I think [it] is out of concern that the juvenile hall population is declining.”

Macallair said he is also worried about holding older offenders with younger minors.

“The Legislature should slow down and really conduct an analysis to what the benefits are and what the problems are that will arise,” he commented.

Larry Morse, legislative director of the California District Attorneys Association., said his organization hasn’t taken a position on the legislation but still had questions.

“We note that when someone turns 18, the government declares them old enough to marry, to bind themselves in contracts, to vote, and most importantly, decide to put their life on the line in service to their country,” Morse said in a statement. “This bill suggests you’re old enough to make those decisions, yet not responsible enough to be held accountable for committing a violent crime. This seeming contradiction is of great concern.”

Not only would this legislation benefit workers in the juvenile detention sector, but it would also establish a bad precedent by not punishing young adult criminals accordingly.

In today’s era of criminal justice reform, policymakers are abandoning common sense and now letting emotions cloud their better judgment.


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