Skinner’s Bill Would Raise the Age to be Tried as an Adult

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Sen. Nancy Skinner.

Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley this week introduced Senate Bill 889, which would raise the age at which young people in California are automatically tried as adults to 20 years old. Under the bill, 18- and 19-year-olds would be treated as juveniles in criminal proceedings.

“When teenagers make serious mistakes and commit crimes, state prison is not the answer. Processing teenagers through the juvenile justice system will help ensure they receive the appropriate education, counseling, treatment, and rehabilitation services necessary to achieve real public safety outcomes,” Sen. Skinner said.

Sen. Skinner and her staff are working closely with numerous stakeholders, including the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), National Center for Youth Law, and other juvenile justice advocates to craft the legislation.

Brain science research has shown that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps inhibit impulses and enables organized and planned behavior, is not yet fully developed in 18- and 19-year-olds. This research, as well as the documented higher incidents of car accidents among 18- and 19-year-olds, is what led most states to raise the legal drinking age to 21 and car rental companies to restrict their services to those 21 and older. The intent of SB 889 is to align the treatment of 18- and 19-year-olds with California’s current law that specifies that 16- and 17-year-olds can only be tried as adults in specified circumstances.

“This is a reform whose time has come,” said David Steinhart, a state and national juvenile justice expert who is also director of the Commonweal Juvenile Justice Program. “The law is changing —nationally and in the states—to incorporate adolescent development and brain science into the juvenile and criminal codes. This bill will make youth services, programs, and enhanced supervision available to 18- and 19-year-olds, who when processed in the adult system, get little or nothing in the way of support or rehabilitation. It will improve public safety by putting thousands of California’s youth back into education and on job tracks that are blocked when they are processed as adults. There are implementation issues that need to be worked out, but the concept is sound, grounded in science, with potentially strong benefits for youth and for community safety.”

“CPOC wants to thank Sen. Skinner for further demonstrating her commitment to the evolution of juvenile justice in California by partnering with CPOC to expand the positive impacts of the last decade, which have vastly improved the outcomes for youth in California,” said Chief Brian Richart, president of CPOC. “Probation has proven that an evidence-based approach focused on a balance of rehabilitation and accountability is what works to protect public safety, restore communities, and help rebuild lives. This legislation is the natural and research-based evolution of our implemented reforms and will have an unprecedented impact on our youth. The brain science is clear and will help us holistically and individually focus on young people by incorporating proven rehabilitation and restorative justice practices, thereby improving our communities by supporting our youth.”

“Raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 18- and 19-year-olds in conflict with the law makes sense on so many levels,” said Frankie Guzman, director of the Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law. “Science and common experience have shown us that, although legally considered adults, older adolescents are immature and still developing mentally and emotionally. Decades of research have proven that the most effective way to reduce crime is by providing education and treatment services— services that do not exist in the adult system. Developing a bill to treat 18- and 19-year-olds as youth and emphasize rehabilitation, rather than punishment, would create tremendous opportunity to promote healthy adolescent development and reduce crime, and more effectively promote public health and safety in California.”

“Under California law, teenagers can’t buy cigarettes, beer, or even rent a car, yet they can be sent to prison for the rest of their lives. Kids should be treated like kids,” said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods. “When a young person gets in trouble, they need our help. They don’t need to be locked in a cage. School, employment, counseling, mentoring, and services provided by community-based organizations—these prevent recidivism. It’s time for California to start giving kids what they need to be their best, and raising the age is a concrete step in the right direction.”

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