Legislation to Reform the Juvenile Justice System

Juvenile Justice System Reform
This year, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice is co-sponsoring two bills in the California Legislature: Senate Bill (SB) 190 and Senate Bill (SB) 439. SB 190 will end the harmful assessment and collection of fees charged to families for a youth’s involvement in the juvenile juvenile system, and SB 439 will establish a minimum age of juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction. These bills will lessen the impact of the juvenile justice system on young Californians and enable families, communities, and child-serving systems to provide young people with the care and support they need.


Senate Bill 190

In many California counties, families of justice-involved youth are charged for the costs associated with legal representation, detention in a juvenile hall or camp, and probation. These fees can quickly add up to thousands of dollars, further penalizing mostly vulnerable families and restricting the resources that could otherwise be used for rehabilitative purposes, such as education. Although these fees are intended to recoup costs, much of the revenue counties receive is used to pay collection agents to recover unpaid fees. Moreover, these fees have been found to disproportionately impact families of color. For example, prior to Alameda County’s suspension of juvenile fees, the average fee levied against the family of a probation-supervised African American youth was $3,438, compared to $1,637 for the family of a white youth.

SB 190 will end the harmful and costly assessment and collections of juvenile administrative fees in all California counties.

  • Authors: Senator Holly Mitchell and Senator Ricardo Lara
  • Co-sponsors: Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, East Bay Community Law Center, Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, PolicyLink, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and Youth Justice Coalition – Los Angeles
  • Status: Senate Committee on Public Safety hearing on March 21st at 8:30am
  • Resources: SB 190 Fact Sheet, SB 190 Support Letter Template

Senate Bill 439

California has no minimum age for juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction, meaning that children of any age can be prosecuted in the juvenile system. Research shows that contact with the juvenile justice system can have lasting and negative psychological and health impacts on children. Many youth who experience early justice system contact have histories of trauma, learning problems, or other underlying and unaddressed behavioral and environmental needs. These needs are better served through alternatives to the justice system that can be provided in the context of family and community.

Age 12 is a suitable minimum for the jurisdiction of juvenile delinquency court because data indicate that children under the age of 12 are referred to the juvenile justice system for relatively minor offenses. These include status offenses, such as curfew violations; misdemeanor offenses, such as petty theft; and felonies, which mainly consist of assault and battery, an offense type that encompasses schoolyard fights. Furthermore, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Childdeclares that all nations must establish a minimum age for their justice systems, and that the minimum should be at least 12 years old.

SB 439 will align California policy with international standards by establishing a minimum age of juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction and excluding children 11 years old and younger from the harms of justice system involvement.

  • maureen washburnAuthors: Senator Holly Mitchell and Senator Ricardo Lara
  • Co-sponsors: Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Children’s Defense Fund-CA, and National Center for Youth Law
  • Status: Senate Committee on Public Safety hearing on April 4th at 9:30am
  • Resources: SB 439 Fact Sheet, SB 439 Support Letter Template

Maureen Washburn
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice

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