Spearheaded by state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), SB-889 hopes to reclassify 18- and 19-year-old Californians as juveniles or "emerging adults" in the state's criminal system, allowing them to receive support from more appropriate youth-focused services.
As reported by the Chronicle, the new proposed piece of legislation was introduced by Senator Skinner on Friday in a bid to help criminally prosecuted youth receive adequate "education, counseling, treatment, and rehabilitation services [...]".
Proud to announce today Senate Bill 889, which would raise the age at which young people in California are automatically tried as adults to 20 years old. Under #SB889, 18- and 19-year-olds would be treated as juveniles in criminal proceedings.https://t.co/A39xO12okc— Nancy Skinner (@NancySkinnerCA) January 28, 2020
“When teenagers make serious mistakes and commit crimes, state prison is not the answer,” Skinner said in a statement. “Processing teenagers through the juvenile justice system will help ensure they receive the appropriate education, counseling, treatment, and rehabilitation services necessary to achieve real public safety outcomes.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, Skinner and her office made it a point to mention that the brains of 18- and 19-year-olds aren't fully developed during the legislation’s announcement last Friday. (And that is absolutely, unequivocally true; science says so.)
“[The research], as well as the documented higher incidents of car accidents among 18- and 19-year-olds, is what led most states to raise the legal drinking age to 21 and car rental companies to restrict their services to those 21 and older,” Skinner’s office added in that published statement.
Brendon Woods, an Alameda County public defender, is also in favor of the bill, saying "when a young person gets in trouble, they need our help, they don’t need to be locked in a cage.”
A similar bill, S.234, was signed into law in Vermont two years ago. The Green Mountain State was the first to raise the age of juveniles in criminal court to over 18, a decision that's being phased in over a two-year period, increasing the "emerging adults" age — a term coined by Harvard — each year. When finished, Vermont will classify most adults in its criminal system as individuals 21 years of age or older; a study focusing on the state’s convicted youth found lower recidivism rates among those who went through juvenile court, as opposed to the adult operation.
Imaginably, the hope is that a similar result would transpire in the Golden State, helping also reduce the estimated $12B (or more) California spends on incarceration annually.
The Chronicle said that the state's Department of Justice reported 17,200 felony arrests of young people (ages between 10 – 17) were made in 2018, with 14,400 arrests involving 18- and 19-year-olds, who conducted similar offenses, also occurred. The newspaper explained that exactly how this transition would be implemented and what effects it could have for county juvenile justice systems remains ambiguous.
Previously, the California Probation Officers Association proposed raising the state’s adult prosecution age to 20 back in November.
Related: No One Knows Why, But Juvenile Crime Has Gone Way Down In California