Senate Bill Blocking Children Under 12 From Prosecution Advances

FRESNO (KMJ) — A Senate Bill blocking prosecution for Californians younger than 12 years old, for everything but the most serious offenses, is progressing in the state legislature. SB 439 is designed to protect younger children from the impact of the justice system.

The proposed legislation would see only allegations of murder, rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm, considered for those under the age of 12.

“Processing children formally through the juvenile justice system, where they have a limited understanding of what’s happening, is unjust and inconsistent with developmental science and best practices,” explained State Senator Holly Mitchell.

Senator Mitchell authored the bill along with State Senator Ricardo Lara. Both Democrats represent the Los Angeles area. It passed the State Senate in 2017, and was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

“In 2015 there were 687 referrals in California to prosecute children under the age of 12. In 2016 the number of referrals was slightly lower at 652. Of these referrals about 85% were closed or diverted at the outset,” detailed Senator Mitchell to the assembled committee members.

“In both years, between 65% to 70% of the cases actually prosecuted were dismissed or informally resolved. In the end, only 30 youth became wards in 2015 and 26 in 2016.”

Senator Mitchell said those who are not incarcerated need help, which they are not getting. The bill would prompt the introduction of an alternative system, and require counties to develop a state-mandated local program.

“In the vast majority of cases…no formal intervention is necessary for young children with unaddressed needs.

“Alternative child serving systems, such as schools, mental-health systems, or community-based programs, are far better at providing needed support.”

If approved, the new law would come into force in 2020. Senate Bill 439 now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Hear the report from KMJ’s Dominic McAndrew as it aired: