California: Here’s What’s Moving in Youth Justice in 2017
By Abigail Appel, Juvenile Justice Fellow
Historically, children who are involved in the justice system at a young age are much more likely to be arrested again as adults. In an effort to dismantle this correlation and increase the likelihood that justice-involved youth have positive outcomes, California has recently passed a number of bills. These bills address various hurdles that make it much harder for youth with criminal records to be successful upon release. All of the bills move away from the “one size fits all” logic in order to give children better opportunities for rehabilitation and judges more leeway to determine a fair punishment.
Senate Bill 312 (SB312), introduced by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), allows youth convicted of a crime committed before they turned 17 to petition for their criminal record to be sealed. If the petition is accepted, usually determined by status of rehabilitation and re-offenses, these youth will not have to deal with the ramifications that come with a criminal record. A criminal record often leads to difficulty obtaining employment, housing, education, and public assistance. Without worrying about the mark of a criminal record, ex-youth-offenders will be less likely to recidivate.
Both Senate Bill 620 (SB620), introduced by State Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), and Senate Concurrent Resolution 48 (SCR 48), introduced by Senator Skinner, give judges the authority to use degrees of culpability, including age at the time of the offense, in determining sentences. SB620 strikes California’s previous requirement to automatically increase sentences by ten years if a gun was involved in the crime. SCR48 strikes California’s previous requirement to punish everyone involved in a crime with the same sentence. Judges will now have the freedom to differentiate between offenders.
Senate Bill 394 (SB394) and 395 (SB395) were introduced by State Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). These bills help to protect children from subjection to interrogation and harsh sentences. SB394 requires a parole hearing after 25 years of being sentenced to life as a minor. SB395 ensures children can consult with a lawyer before waiving their Miranda rights in interviews with police.
Lastly, Assembly Bill 1308 (AB1308), introduced by Assembly Member Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), extends the age of youth parole hearings from 23 to 25.
All of these bills have been enrolled and are awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.