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CA Lawmakers Consider Ending the Treatment of 14- and 15-Year-Olds as Adults

Last week, dozens of advocates from across California gathered in Sacramento to voice support for Senate Bill 1391, a bill jointly authored by Senators Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell that seeks to end the transfer of 14- and 15-year-olds into adult criminal court. SB 1391 recognizes that trying youth in adult courts and subjecting them to adult punishment is overly punitive and inherently harmful. By retaining younger youth in the juvenile justice system where education and rehabilitative services are mandated, SB 1391 ensures that youth under 16 have the chance to grow, heal, and return safely to their communities.

SB 1391 is part of the Equity and Justice Package, a suite of five public safety bills jointly authored by Senators Lara and Mitchell. The package also includes SB 439, a bill co-sponsored by CJCJ, which would establish a minimum age for juvenile prosecution. Together, the 2018 Equity and Justice bills seek to reform the criminal and juvenile justice systems by addressing historic inequities and lessening the harm of systems involvement.

Daniel Mendoza, UC Davis student, Annie E. Casey Foundation Consultant, and 2017 Next Generation Fellow, testifies in support of SB 1391.

CJCJ strongly supports SB 1391 because it promises to reduce the number of youth subjected to high-stakes adult court prosecutions, which carry the risk of lengthy prison terms and a lifelong criminal record. With the W. Haywood Burns Institute and the National Center for Youth Law, CJCJ has examined disparities in the transfer of youth into adult criminal court, finding that youth of color are transferred to adult court at far higher rates than white youth, and counties seek adult court prosecution at starkly different rates. In a report released in November, the co-authors identified several recommendations for reducing the disparities that accompany transfer, including increased training for judges, probation officers, prosecutors, and defenders; expanded data collection and reporting; and an eventual end to all transfers.

SB 1391 began its journey through the Legislature last Tuesday with a hearing in the Senate Committee on Public Safety. Senator Lara presented the bill, explaining that age-appropriate services and treatment can produce effective rehabilitation and prepare youth for a second chance in their communities. Senator Bradford, a committee member who requested to be added as a co-author, called for reflection on California’s treatment of young teenagers: “If this was your 14- or 15-year-old, what options would you want for them? I guarantee that you would not want them in an adult court or in an adult prison.”

CJCJ Communications and Policy Analyst, Renee Menart, joins allies for legislative visits in support of SB 1391.

Committee members heard testimony from Frankie Guzman, Director of the California Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law, and Daniel Mendoza, a UC Davis student, Annie E. Casey Foundation consultant, and member of the 2017 Next Generation Fellowship. Frankie and Daniel described the benefits of retaining youth in the juvenile justice system and the harm of adult prosecution. Daniel explained, “I stand before you as living proof of the importance of this bill…we can grow, we can change, and we can contribute to our communities.” 

After the hearing, CJCJ’s policy team joined allies from across the state for legislative visits to raise awareness about SB 1391 and highlight the human impact of California’s transfer policy. Ultimately, SB 1391 passed out of the Senate Committee on Public Safety with five of the seven committee members voting in support. The bill will now move to the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations. To voice your support for SB 1391, submit a letter to Senator Ricardo Lara (fax: 916-651-4933).


Related Links

2018 Promises Groundbreaking Justice Reform in California

New Report: Youth Prosecution after Prop 57

Prop 57 Alliance Celebrates Success and Looks to the Future


Keywords: disparity, equity and justice, justice by geography, Maureen Washburn, Prop 57, SB 1391, SB 439, Senator Holly Mitchell, Senator Ricardo Lara, transfer hearing

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