This year, states took a look both forward and back along the developmental timeline, enacting legislation that redefines at what age children enter—and how long they may stay under the jurisdiction of—the juvenile justice system.
California and Massachusetts both passed legislation that prohibits prosecution of anyone under 12 for any offense.California SB 439 (2018); and Massachusetts SB 2371, § 72 (2018). Colorado, instead of setting a bottom limit on the age of competency to proceed in its juvenile justice system, established a new definition of “competency”—and new procedures for determining it—with the understanding that “juveniles differ in significant and substantive ways from adults, therefore, different standards for competency are necessary.”Colorado HB 18-1050, § 2, 19-2-1300.2(b) & § 4, 19-2-1302(4) (2018). The impact of the law remains to be seen, including whether it will result in younger children being tried or racial disparities in findings of competency.
Rhode Island enacted legislation that removed exceptions to family court jurisdiction—Rhode Island’s name for its juvenile justice courts—for 17-year-olds charged with some violent crimes.Rhode Island HB 7503 (2018). Before this legislation, 17-year-olds could be automatically transferred to adult court proceedings on those charges. And Delaware passed legislation prohibiting 16- and 17-year-olds from being incarcerated with adults while awaiting trial—even if they are being tried as adults and would, if convicted, end up in the adult correctional system.Delaware HB 339 (2018). Previously, children could be held pretrial in an adult jail.
Children in adult prisons are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted than those held in juvenile facilities, and those 17 or younger are twice as likely to commit suicide in adult facilities than other age groups held in the same facilities.For sexual assault statistics, see Prison Rape Elimination Act, 34 U.S.C. § 30301(4) (congressional findings). For suicide statistics, see Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000–2012 – Statistical Tables (Washington, DC: BJS, 2014). Also see Niall McCarthy, “Teenagers in Adult Prisons Are Twice as Likely to Commit Suicide [Infographic],” Forbes, October 13, 2014; and Matthew C. Aalsma, Katherine S.L. Lau, Anthony J. Perkins, et al., “Mortality of Youth Offenders Along a Continuum of Justice System Involvement,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 50, no. 3 (2016), 303-10. But many states—even the ones that don’t allow children to be tried in adult courts—automatically transfer people out of the juvenile justice system when they reach an statutorily set age of majority—but before they stop needing its specialized facilities and programming.See generally Chad R. Trulson, Jonathan W. Caudill, Scott H. Belshaw, and Matt DeLisi, “A Problem of Fit: Extreme Delinquents, Blended Sentencing, and the Determinants of Continued Adult Sanctions,” Criminal Justice Policy Review 22, no. 3 (2011), 263-84.
Some states are taking steps to change that, allowing young adults to remain under (but not enter) the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system past their age of majority.That is, while a 19 year old would not be tried in juvenile court, someone who was 17 at the time of their trial and is now 19 would still be subject to the jurisdiction of the same court where their trial took place. In March, Washington State extended the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system to 25-year-olds.Washington SB 6160 (2018). Also see Wiltz, “Washington Governor Signs Bill,” 2018. And, in May, Arizona passed HB 2356, which allows the state’s juvenile justice system to retain jurisdiction over teenagers until the age of 19, a measure that proponents hope will reduce the number of transfers of 17-year-olds to adult court.Arizona HB 2356 (2018). Also see Christie Renick, “Arizona Had a Busy Legislative Year on Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice,” Chronicle of Social Change, June 4, 2018. Meanwhile, Indiana enacted HB 1228, which requires the state to track data concerning children under the jurisdiction of the adult court system, including their gender and race, and publish annual reports.Indiana HB 1228 (2018).