Legislative Update – May 5, 2016

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May 5, 2016 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont Statehouse in SpringCommittee Work:

We passed a number of bills pertaining to DNA collection, Criminal Threatening, Guardianships for Children and Juvenile Justice.

The House passed H.95 regarding Juvenile Justice Reforms. This is perhaps one of the most important bills I have worked on. For many in the field of juvenile issues, this has been a 35 year endeavor. I serve on the Justice Oversight Committee and look forward to continuing this important work. Below is an explanation of the importance of the bill. It is written by Vermont’s Juvenile Defender.

“The juvenile jurisdiction sections of H.95 are more important than almost any of the changes that have been made in our justice system in decades. Since the early 1980s Vermont has allowed children as young as 10 to be prosecuted in criminal court and has allowed prosecutors complete discretion to charge 16 and 17 year olds for even the most petty crimes in criminal court. While there were a number of states with similar juvenile jurisdiction provisions in the 80s and 90s (throughout the “child super-predator” scare) almost every state has moved to a more rational charging regime using the age of 18 as the presumptive dividing-line between juvenile and criminal court. Vermont has lagged far behind. The juvenile jurisdiction provisions written into this bill will get Vermont into line with the rest of the country and resolve a problem that those of us involved in the juvenile justice system have recognized for 35 years.

The benefits of this bill will be huge and long-lasting. The differences between the juvenile and criminal justice systems has been studied extensively and there is conclusive evidence that defendants who are treated as juveniles rather than adults are far less likely to reoffend, more likely to hold down long term employment, more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to rely on public support in adulthood, and less likely to become addicted to illegal substances. By supporting our justice system in bringing more young offender into juvenile court, this bill will provide a long-term benefit to our state’s economy, social welfare, quality of life, and judicial resources.

While the juvenile jurisdiction changes that are implemented in this bill bring our state’s justice system into alignment with the vast majority of other states, the bill’s direction that the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee examine increasing the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21 and the age of youthful offender jurisdiction to 25 is truly cutting-edge. The age of 18 as the presumptive dividing line between the criminal and juvenile systems was chosen in the late 1800s when the very first juvenile courts were created in Illinois. Eighteen was chosen because, at the time, it was the age where people were marrying, having children, getting long-term jobs, and “growing up.” Today, though, we know that our brains are in a state of adolescent development from about the age of 12 to 24. There is very little difference between a 15 year old and a 21 year old in terms of the way that they calculate risk, make quick decisions, process the emotions of other people, and learn to relate to society. Recognizing that the juvenile justice system should reflect the science of brain development rather than the social standards of the nineteenth century, Connecticut and Illinois have advanced legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21. By taking a serious look at aligning our juvenile justice system with the best science on brain development, we can be among the first states to take a pragmatic look at a 220 year old convention.”

 

Please stay in touch. mgrad@leg.state.vt.us. 496-7667.