Bill introduced to raise age limit on California’s youth justice system

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State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, announced SB 889 on Tuesday, which would increase the age for young individuals in California to be automatically tried as adults from 18 to 20 years old.

The existing law issues any person charged with a criminal offense who is under 18 years of age to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. According to the press release, this bill will ensure that 18 and 19-year-olds will be treated as juveniles in criminal proceedings.

“When teenagers make serious mistakes and commit crimes, state prison is not the answer,” Skinner said in a press release. “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.”

SB 889 aims to “align” itself with the treatment of 16 and 17-year-olds, who can currently be tried as adults in “special” circumstances, according to the press release. The bill was developed using scientific research stating that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps stop impulses and makes planned decisions, is not fully developed in 18 and 19-year-olds, according to the press release.

In response to the results of this research, most states proceeded to raise the legal drinking age to 21, according to the press release.

Chief Probation Officers of California, or CPOC, has teamed up with Skinner in an effort to develop the legislation further, according to Chief Brian Richart, president of CPOC. He added that CPOC is a research-led and scientifically driven organization that has focused on juvenile and adult criminal justice for years.

“This bill follows the science, which we always support,” Richart said. “To see Skinner come up with a bill that follows the principles of best practices and the research on brain science, we are all for it.”

According to the press release, Skinner’s bill would offer youth services and programs to 18 and 19-year-olds who would have otherwise lacked support and rehabilitation opportunities if processed in the adult system.

With the bill, individuals under 20 years old charged with a crime would be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and could possibly have their records sealed as a juvenile, according to Richart. He added that these records would then not be “held against them” when looking for employment or seeking an education.

Richart added that the bill would benefit teenagers transitioning into adulthood and could also aid foster youth, who have a higher propensity than other teenagers to end up in state prison between the ages of 18 and 21.

“The criminal justice system thinks you are better served in a juvenile context where rehabilitation and treatment are the primary focal points,” Richart said. “It’s not punishment, it’s rehabilitation.”

Contact Olivia González Britt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Oliviagbritt.