National Center for Youth Law


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California Governor Signs Major Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation
by Jasmine Amons

California became the first state to bar the transfer of 14 and 15 years olds to adult court and established a minimum age of jurisdiction for the juvenile system when two NCYL sponsored bills, Senate Bill 439 and 1391, were signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown on September 30, 2018.

Until now, California had no law specifying a minimum age for juvenile justice jurisdiction, meaning children as young as five were exposed to formal justice system processing. Senate Bill 439, authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara, excludes children aged 11 and younger from prosecution and incarceration in the juvenile justice system. Adoption of the bill brings California one step closer to our goal of promoting the rights, health, and well-being of young children exclusively through alternative child-serving systems.

Current California law also allows youth under 16 to be sent to adult criminal court, where they can face lengthy prison sentences. Youth of color overwhelmingly bear the brunt of this practice which relies upon punitive measures and outdated, debunked ideas of youth as “super predators” who are incapable of change. Data from 10 years of transfer hearings shows that five in 10 Latino youth and six in 10 Black youth are transferred to the adult system, compared to only one in 10 white youth.

NCYL joined a broad coalition of partners in co-sponsoring Senate Bill 1391, which is also authored by Senators Lara and Mitchell. The legislation ends the practice of trying 14- and 15-year-olds as adults. Instead, these youth will stay in the juvenile system and be provided with the necessary resources for rehabilitation. You can click here for Governor Brown’s SB 1391 signing message.

Thanks to efforts of Senators Mitchell and Lara and our organizational partners, we are closer to ensuring California’s justice system treats youth in a manner appropriate for their age, cognitive development, and ability to change. The signing of this legislation, along with the establishment of the Youth Reinvestment Fund earlier this year, cements Governor Brown’s legacy as a real champion of juvenile justice reform.