SB 439 - Setting a Minimum Age for Juvenile Court Prosecution

In 2015, 874 referrals were made in California to prosecute children under 12, including one five-year-old and 13 seven-year-olds. Ultimately, approximately 250 youth under age 12 were prosecuted. Although prosecuting youth so young is increasingly rare in California, our state has no law specifying a minimum age for juvenile justice jurisdiction. This means that young children of any age can be processed in the juvenile justice system despite studies and court decisions that demonstrate the immaturity of children lessens their culpability and also makes it more difficult to meaningfully navigate the justice system processes, including working with their own attorneys.

SB 439 would exclude children 11 years old and younger from juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction. Research shows that contact with the juvenile justice system can have lasting and negative psychological and health impacts on anyone – but can be especially traumatic for a child. This proposed bill advocates for children’s rights, health and well-being by promoting alternatives outside of the juvenile justice system – such as through child welfare, education, health care or human services.

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Setting a minimum age for juvenile justice jurisdiction in California
International Journal of Prisoner Health | March 2017
Despite the existence of minimum age laws for juvenile justice jurisdiction in 18 US states, California has no explicit law that protects children (i.e. youth less than 12 years old) from being processed in the juvenile justice system. In the absence of a minimum age law, California lags behind other states and international practice and standards. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

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