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Lawbreakers Under Twelve May Be Getting a Major Break

State Lawmakers Hope Governor Brown Will Reform the Juvenile Justice System

By Sean Brown, September 2, 2018 7:30 am

State Senator Holly J. Mitchell. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Lawmakers have sent a bill to Governor Jerry Brown as they plan to exclude children age 11 and younger from juvenile court jurisdiction to promote the rights, health and well-being of youth by curbing premature exposure to incarceration.

SB 439 is one of several bills comprising an “#EquityAndJustice” package jointly authored for the second consecutive year by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach). Six measures were signed into law last year, and SB 439 is among four remaining this session.

“I’m grateful to colleagues who have joined me in reforming a system that too often punishes children as if they were disposable,” Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said after the Assembly voted 43-32 to approve Senate Bill 439. “Children are not pint-sized adults. Instead, they should be cared for with an emphasis on rehabilitation – not warehousing.” Sen. Mitchell added in her press release.

Current California law places a person who is under the age of 18 years old within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court for various offenses. An example of this may include, but is not limited to the person “habitually refusing to obey the reasonable and proper orders or directions of his or her parents or is habitually truant, as specified.” Standing law also places a person who is less than 18 years of age when he or she violates any law of this state, of the United States, or specified ordinances of any city or county of this state within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Furthermore, existing law also authorizes a juvenile court to adjudge a person under these circumstances to be a ward of the court.

But Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey insisted the bill goes “way too far.” He said it requires law enforcement to turn juveniles under 12 over to their parents or guardians regardless of the circumstances. “No matter how much  harm the child has caused, no matter how many victims were involved, and no matter how much the juvenile needs rehabilitation services,” he said (Via Capradio.org).

SB 439 would specifically modify the ages that a person must be to fall within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court or adjudged a ward of the court. Minors aged 12 to 17 would still be penalized for any wrong doing acknowledge by the court of law as well as any minors under 12 years of age who have or from this point forward commit murder, rape, sodomy, oral copulation, or sexual penetration by force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm. In these instances listed, any minor under 12 would still be within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and may be adjudged a ward of the court.

Despite this, on or after January 1, 2020, the bill would require the county to release a minor 12 and under to his or her parent, guardian, or caregiver if his or her behavior or actions are as described under existing law. In order to rationalize their notion, legislators have added into the bill “In order to ensure the safety and well-being of minors who are under 12 years of age… it is the intent of the Legislature that counties pursue appropriate measures to serve and protect a child only as needed, avoiding any intervention whenever possible, and using the least restrictive alternatives through available school-, health-, and community-based services” (Leginfo.legislature.ca).

The other remaining measures include; SB 1050 a bill providing services and support for exonerated people after prison, SB 1391 a bill to ensure that youth ages 14 and 15 who commit crimes get the services they need by prohibiting them from being tried as adults and SB 1393 a proposal to return judicial discretion for sentences relating to five-year enhancements for serious felony convictions.

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