Last summer, we discussed several bills being considered by the California State Senate, including Senate Bill 439 (SB-439). As is the case with most legislation we focus on, SB 439 centers on juvenile justice, explicitly keeping most youngsters under the age of 12 out of courtrooms and into alternative programs for discipline.
SB 439 made it through the Senate, and if the bill makes its way to the Governor’s desk, it would mean two significant changes for California counties with regard to the handling of children ages 11 and under. First, minors whose behavior and actions are cause for concern by authorities must be released to his or her parent, guardian, or caregiver; except, if the crime involves an act of murder or rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm. Secondly, the bill requires counties to “develop a process for determining the least restrictive responses that may be used instead of, or in addition to, the release of the minor to his or her parent, guardian, or caregiver.”
Researchers at UCLA analyzed California Department of Justice data and found that only a small number of kids under twelve find their way into the clutches of the juvenile justice system, according to Press-Telegram. The analysis showed that eighty-five percent of the 452 referrals of 11-year-olds to the courts were closed or diverted from the system at the beginning of the cases. However, for the slight number of kids that are not so fortunate, the juvenile justice system can mark the start of more problems in life.
Strong Opposition to SB 439
“The vast majority of young children in California who’ve been accused of an offense are exhibiting behaviors or minor behaviors that did not require any justice involvement,” said State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s co-sponsor. “Involvement with the juvenile justice system can be harmful to a child’s health and development.”
Sen. Mitchell’s views are not shared by law enforcement organization throughout the state and are pushing back hard trying to encourage those who are considering the legislation to bar its moving forward, the article reports. Last month, The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office reached out to the committee stating that the juvenile justice system is the only way to rehabilitate children and keep the public safe. Tamar Tokat from the L.A. County District Attorney’s office says there is “no alternative” to serious criminal cases involving children. Most of the bill’s opponents cite troubling cases involving the most extreme of offenses to make their point; the California District Attorneys Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the Chief Probation Officers of California are among those opposing SB 439’s passing.
We will continue to follow this story as it develops. As an aside, if you are on the lookout for some summer reading material, The Evolution of the Juvenile Court: Race, Politics, and the Criminalizing of Juvenile Justice by Barry C. Feld might be the book for you.
“As a juvenile court jurist of almost 20 years, a reformer for most of those years and an adjunct law professor, I can adamantly state that this book is not only a must read, but should be added to the reading lists of those studying juvenile justice, including law students,” writes Judge Steven Teske on the Juvenile Justice Information exchange.
Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney
The Law Offices of Katie Walsh can help your son or daughter who is facing criminal charges or school expulsion. Our team of legal experts will advocate for your child and assist them in achieving the most favorable outcome in their case. Please contact us today.