National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

Keeping 14 and 15 Year Olds Out of the Adult Criminal Justice System
SB 1391 (Lara)

Twenty-four years ago, California changed its laws to allow the prosecution of 14 and 15-year-olds in adult criminal court. This disproportionately affected youth of color. Since that time, we have learned a great deal about cognitive science. Adolescent brain science demonstrates that youth have tremendous capacity to change and mature, and do not achieve full development in the area of the brain needed for decision making in emotionally heightened situations or impulse control until age 25. We’ve also learned about the negative effects that the adult criminal justice system has on the development of youth and public safety. Youth that are given age-appropriate services and education only available in the juvenile system are less likely to commit future crimes. In the adult prison system, these services are not required, and often are not available.

If incarceration is necessary for youth in conflict with the law, it is important they remain in the juvenile justice system to receive developmentally-appropriate services. SB 1391 would end the transfer of children 14 and 15 years old to the adult court and will help ensure that youth receive the same compulsory education services provided to all children, as well as individualized services to address mental and behavioral health, disabilities, childhood trauma, and other needs.

Youth need care, not cages. SB 1391 is the first of many steps California needs to take to ensure our youth justice system is developmentally appropriate and encourages the healthy development and wellbeing of all of our children.