Washington Senate passes reforms to reduce recidivism and racial disparities in juvenile justice system

  • Wednesday, February 28, 2018 10:28am
  • News
Rep. Patty Kuderer, D-48. Courtesy photo

Rep. Patty Kuderer, D-48. Courtesy photo

The Washington state Senate recently passed legislation extending juvenile justice jurisdiction for some youthful offenders to age 25.

The bill is now in the House and was placed on second reading by the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

Current Washington law requires that 16-17 year olds who commit certain crimes are automatically tried as adults without any consideration of brain development, criminal history, upbringing or other potentially mitigating circumstances. Some of these crimes include: first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary (if the offender has a prior felony or misdemeanor), and any violent offense in which the offender is alleged to have been armed with a firearm.

Over the course of two decades, these provisions have been proven to disproportionately impact people of color and increase recidivism due to youthful involvement with the adult criminal justice system.

Senate Bill 6160, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, reforms these provisions and places them within the jurisdiction of juvenile court instead of adult court.

“In making any change to the juvenile justice system, it is critical we keep at the forefront our goal to truly rehabilitate our young people and give them a fair chance to participate in society meaningfully,” said Kuderer. “When one third of offenders incarcerated as a young adult ultimately re-offend, it’s clear we must do more. This legislation takes a significant step to address some of the failings in our system and begin the difficult work of positive change.”

The legislation would also extend the age limit for confinement in a juvenile rehabilitation institution from 21 to 25 for juveniles adjudicated of these offenses.

“We have found that many of the young people who have been incarcerated experienced some kind of significant trauma,” said Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma and chair of the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee. “The evidence is clear that early exposure to the criminal justice system can be seriously detrimental in the development of young lives. Now is the time to move forward from an era of policies which all too often failed to rehabilitate children who make mistakes early in life.”

SB 6160 represents a compromise between all corners of the criminal justice system, including prosecutors, law enforcement professionals, criminal defenders and advocates who work directly with youth.

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