A campaign is under way to increase from 18 to 20 the age where young people accused of crimes are processed as juveniles instead of adults.
“Young adults would benefit more from the juvenile system and early diversion programs than adult incarceration,” said Stephanie James, president of the Chief Probation Officers of California. “Such diversion programs have proven successful, and have been used for decades,”
The plan is to introduce legislation in 2020 in an effort to see more juveniles benefitting from rehabilitative programs, the Chronicle of Social Change reported on Dec. 12.
Researchers have reported that a person’s brain is still developing between the ages of 18 and 24, the story said. That group makes up 10% of the U.S. population.
“We’ve been working on this for almost a year. We want to build on what works and what has been successful. (It’s about) evolving, elevating, keeping the things that we’re trying to expand on … that’s really at the heart of what we’re trying to build on,” said Karen Pank, CPOC executive director.
Young people are prone to be more impulsive, less future-oriented, volatile in emotionally charged set- tings; and highly susceptible to peer and outside influences, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Between 75 and 95% of system-involved youth “exhibit symptoms of trauma due to exposure to violence,” the article noted.
The plan is opposed by the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Its executive director, Daniel Macallair, said the change is “just a strategy to fill the juvenile halls.”
Juvenile halls in California are operating now at about 25% of capacity, said Macallair.
The proposal, called the Elevate Justice Act, would also seal more juvenile records, re- quire probation departments to petition for termination of probation, and expand probation-supervised restorative justice programs, the article noted.
“They’re right at the threshold where they’re starting to close juvenile justice halls and promote community reinvestment. Raising the age to 20 would ensure that the juvenile justice system pre- serves itself, and everybody stays happy, under the illusion that there’s some progressive reform, “Macallair said.
“The state legislature has placed a great emphasis on brain development in recent years as it has pursued a bevy of juvenile justice reforms, and I believe that any proposal that recognizes the difference in the brain development of juveniles and adults is worth full discussion,” said Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr., Democratic chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Jones-Sawyer also reported he believes that punishment should be our last resort for juveniles.
Juveniles in county-run facilities have dropped from a high of about 4,000 to about 800 youth over the past 15 years, according to data from the Board of State and Community Corrections.