California lawmakers are seeking to raise the age in which the state's juvenile justice system can try someone as a minor. Senate Bill 889 was proposed to automatically try those that are under the age of 21 as minors—an idea backed by some state probation officers, who explain teenagers aren't mature enough to be held responsible in the same way as older offenders.
Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said the measure would amend state law by designating 18 and 19-year-olds as juveniles in criminal proceedings, ensuring they get support services for youth rather than punishment for adults. Skinner pointed to other laws, such as purchasing tobacco and alcohol, which require a person to be 21 as the “responsible age,” she said.
Research indicates that, between the ages of 18 and 24, the human brain has less than fully developed prefrontal cortexes, which inhibit decision making. This explains, why young adults act impulsively, says Brian Richart, president of the Chief Probation Officers of California.
Skinner stated, “Treating 18-and 19-year-olds as adults makes no sense in the criminal context.” Yet, depending upon the nature of the crime, the measure would leave the courts with some discretion.
Exactly how this bill would put into place treatment and services for offenders in this age range, is still unclear. Currently, juvenile offenders are processed at the county level and can be placed in juvenile halls or in other facilities.
The proposed legislation comes amidst a long-term drop in youth crime that has left almost every juvenile hall in California half empty.
Senator Skinner plans on working with juvenile justice advocates to implement specifics to the bill.
The goal is to make sure kids are treated like kids, said Alameda County Public Defender, Brendon Woods, who supports Skinner's bill. He believes “when a young person gets into trouble, they need our help. They don't need to be locked up in a cage.”