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Senate Bill 439 End the Prosecution of Children Under 12 (2018)

CJCJ co-sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 439, a bill that set out to establish a minimum age for prosecution in juvenile court at age 12. As part of the Equity and Justice 2018 bill package, SB 439 will lessen the impact of the juvenile justice system on young Californians and enable families, communities, and child-serving systems to provide young people with the care and support they need.

California has had no minimum age for juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction, meaning that children of any age could be prosecuted. Each year in California, hundreds of children under 12 are referred to the juvenile justice system for relatively minor offenses. These include status offenses, such as curfew violations; misdemeanor offenses, such as petty theft; and felonies, which largely consist of assault and battery, an offense that encompasses schoolyard fights.

Research shows that contact with the juvenile justice system can have lasting, negative psychological and health impacts on children. Many young children who experience early justice system contact have histories of trauma, learning problems, or other underlying and unaddressed behavioral and environmental needs. These needs are better addressed through alternatives to the justice system and should be provided in the context of family and community.

Prosecuting young children in juvenile court disregards research on the inherent harms of early justice system involvement and places California out of step with national standards and international norms. In fact, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that all nations must establish a minimum age for their justice systems, and that the minimum should be at least 12 years old.

SB 439 recognizes the unique needs of children under 12 and will allow California to align its treatment of young children with international standards.

Authors: Senator Holly Mitchell and Senator Ricardo Lara


  • Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
  • Children’s Defense Fund – California
  • National Center for Youth Law
  • W. Haywood Burns Institute
  • Youth Justice Coalition – Los Angeles
  • Anti-Recidivism Coalition

Status: Signed into law


SB 439 Fact Sheet 2018