In late 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed nine bills reforming the juvenile justice system in California by placing a greater emphasis on prevention, rehabilitation, and maintaining family cohesion. The new laws increase parole opportunities and ease punishment for people who committed crimes as children or teens.
Notable bills include SB 395, SB 394, and AB 1308, which impact the rights of juveniles who have been accused and/or convicted. Under SB 395 police can no longer interrogate children 15 years old and younger until the individual has consulted with an attorney. SB 394 gives those who committed a crime under age 18 and were sentenced to life without parole the chance to earn parole, with the opportunity for a parole hearing after 24 years of incarceration. Lastly, AB 1308 extends the special parole process known as “Youth Offender Parole Hearing,” which provides a specialized, earlier parole review for inmates from age 22 to 25.
Another important bill, SB 190, limits cities and counties from collecting fees from families with children under 21 in juvenile detention. Under its provisions, parents and legal guardians will no longer be liable for the costs of transporting minors to juvenile justice facilities or for their food, shelter, drug tests or other care while there. This law will ease financially burdensome administrative fees for youth involved in the juvenile justice system and their struggling families.
The legislation was based on scientific research showing that adolescent brains are immature and do not fully develop until our mid-20s. This sweeping reform is part of a national trend of treating children as children in the criminal justice system, and reversing the inappropriate and harsh sentencing of the 1990s. This new trend began in 2005 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons. In Roper, the Supreme Court established a categorical ban on the use of the death penalty on juveniles under the age of 18. The Court outlined three major differences between juveniles and adults: juveniles are immature and therefore more likely to take action without considering the long term consequences, juveniles are more susceptible to negative influences such as peer pressure, and the character and personality of juveniles is transitory and not fully formed. Hence, the Supreme Court reasoned that juveniles necessarily had a diminished culpability in comparison to adults. This case was followed up by several more Supreme Court cases that banned life sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses and declared mandatory life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional.
These measures took effect on January 1, 2018. We will continue to track the progression of this issue and update you accordingly.
California: New Laws Protect Children, Youth (October 11, 2017, 8:15 PM), https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/11/california-new-laws-protect-children-youth.
Jazmine Ulloa, Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Legislation to Ease Punishment, Criminal Fines for Juvenile Offenders (October 11, 2017, 5:45 PM), http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-jerry-brown-juvenile-justice-bills-20171011-story.html.
Ray Sotero, Gov. Brown Signs Nine Sen. Holly J. Mitchell Bills to Help Youth and Reform Criminal Justice (October 16, 2017), http://sd30.senate.ca.gov/news/press-releases/2017-10-16-oct-16-2017-gov-brown-signs-nine-sen-holly-j-mitchell-bills-help.
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).