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Capitol Alert

Juvenile or adult? California bill would raise age for prosecution from 18 to 20


A California lawmaker argues that 18- and 19-year-olds aren’t mature enough to do prison time if they break the law, and so she has submitted a bill that would treat them like juveniles.

Under the proposed bill, 20 would be the new age when someone would automatically face criminal charges as an adult.

“When teenagers make serious mistakes and commit crimes, state prison is not the answer,” said bill sponsor Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “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.”

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Skinner’s office pointed to data showing that 18- and 19-year-old brains are not yet fully developed.

“This 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 said in a statement.

Skinner said she intends to work closely with groups such as the Chief Probation Officers of California and the National Center for Youth Law to craft the language of the legislation.

Skinner’s press release also included a statement from Brendon Woods, an Alameda County public defender.

“Under California law, teenagers can’t buy cigarettes, beer, or even rent a car, yet they can be sent to prison for the rest of their lives. Kids should be treated like kids,” Woods said. “When a young person gets in trouble, they need our help. They don’t need to be locked in a cage.”

Others are skeptical of the proposal.

Larry Morse, legislative director for the California District Attorneys Association, said the reasoning behind the bill is inconsistent.

“The obvious response is that when someone turns 18, the government declares them old enough to, among other things, marry, bind themselves in contracts, vote and, most importantly, decide to put their life on the line in service to their country,” Morse said. “You’re old enough to make all those decisions at 18 yet not old enough to be held as an adult when committing crimes?”

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