Bill Watch Juvenile Justice Juvenile Justice: Healing Not Punishment Juvenile Probation

Under CA Bill, 18- and 19-year-olds Accused of Crimes Would Stay in Juvenile Court

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

A new bill announced Tuesday seeks to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in California from 17 to include 18- and 19-year-olds.

Under the bill, SB 889, the state will be better able to make sure that kids, who might otherwise be headed for state prison, “receive the appropriate education, counseling, treatment, and rehabilitation services necessary to achieve real public safety outcomes,” in a youth lockup, instead, said Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the bill’s author.

Raising the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction is part of a larger plan created by the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), the other aspects of which are not included in the current version of Skinner’s bill, but are presumably still in the works.

Skinner said she will be working closely with CPOC, as well as the National Center for Youth Law and other community stakeholders to further craft SB 889 over the coming weeks.

“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,” said Chief Brian Richart, president of CPOC. “This legislation is the natural and research-based evolution of our implemented reforms and will have an unprecedented impact on our youth.”

CPOC’s other suggested legislative changes include extending the age through which young adults can remain under local juvenile probation supervision from the current age of 21 to 24 years old. Additionally, the group would like to cap the length of juvenile probation supervision at one year of a youth’s demonstrated ability to live successfully in the community. CPOC also proposes truncating the long list of probation violations for which kids can face incarceration and other consequences. Non-serious acts like missing curfew would no longer put youth at risk of having their probation revoked.

Under the probation chiefs’ larger plan, youths would receive individualized treatment and rehabilitation plans focused on helping them into adulthood free of probation supervision or lockup. While the group seeks to increase the number of youth who are eligible to remain in the juvenile justice system, it also intends to “further limit detention by requiring the use of a risk-based intake assessment.”

In an op-ed for CALmatters, Mike Males, senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) blasted the plan to move young adults into the juvenile system as a terrible idea, and a ploy by probation officials to revive the dying juvenile justice system — a system that “California should be reforming out of existence.”

Many of California’s once brimming juvenile probation camps — filled by the “superpredator” myth of the 1990s — now sit empty, or at least far below capacity. (Nowhere in California has the population of locked-up youth dropped more precipitously than in Los Angeles County.)

In 39 of the 43 counties with juvenile lockups, the facilities are not even at half-capacity, according to an SF Chronicle investigative series called “Vanishing Violence,” which looked at how the ever-soaring costs of locking kids up at the county level (as much as $500,000 annually for each kid) have not reflected the state’s plummeting juvenile incarceration rates.

Generally, the problem is that local probation budgets and juvenile corrections staff numbers have not been reduced as fewer kids are funneled into juvenile halls and camps. This, according to some advocates, may be the reason for CPOC’s push to keep young adults in the juvenile system: a wider net with which to drag more bodies into juvenile camps and halls currently at risk of closure.

“Probation chiefs are now promising new adult clients services they’ve never delivered to their youthful clients,” Males wrote. “A more likely result is that probation bureaucracies will return to age-old practices of detaining youth out of convenience rather than need. For decades, Division of Juvenile Justice reports showed youths sentenced by juvenile courts spent more time behind bars than did adults sentenced by criminal courts for the same offenses.”

Instead, lawmakers should focus on real, “genuine reform, rather than “more agency roulette,” to improve outcomes for young people who come into contact with California’s criminal justice system, Males continued. “Classifying youthful and adult offenders flexibly by rehabilitation potential, rather than arbitrarily by age, and tailoring sentences to address their personal characteristics—that is, real individualized justice—is a crucial first step.”

To the National Center for Youth Law, the Commonweal Juvenile Justice Program, and other youth justice reform-focused leaders, however, SB 889 is a positive step toward improving how youth fare in the justice system.

“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,” said David Steinhart, head of the Commonweal Juvenile Justice Program. 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.”

Raising the age through SB 889 “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.


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