LOS ANGELES, CA – In California in 2015, 687 children under 12 were referred for prosecution, including one five-year-old and 13 seven-year-olds. Approximately 250 of those 687 children were prosecuted. However, studies show that the immaturity of youth lessens their culpability and makes it more difficult for them to navigate the justice system. In response, today the Board of Supervisors approved a motion authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, and co-authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, that develops a comprehensive plan to divert youth from juvenile court jurisdiction and detention by creating and providing wraparound services focused on development and support for this population.

“Everyone benefits when young people receive stability, support, and a chance to be successful,” said Supervisor Solis. “These behaviors should be seen as a cry for help, and our justice system should not respond with a heavy hand. By responding to these children’s needs in an innovative and supportive manner, we can stabilize the lives of these young people, their families, and our communities. Today’s action helps close the pipeline to the criminal justice system, improving outcomes to our most vulnerable children.”

“Being placed in handcuffs, courtrooms and juvenile halls can leave young people deeply traumatized, particularly children as young as 11 or 12,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Los Angeles County has emerged as a leader in safely diverting adults and youth from the justice system but, still, more than a hundred 12-year olds were arrested in the County in 2017. We simply must do more develop alternative systems so that our children are spared the predictable and avoidable outcomes of detention and incarceration.”

In addition to developing a plan to prohibit young children from being prosecuted, today’s motion asks County Departments to identify holistic programming and services that are focused on positive youth development in lieu of prosecution and detention. This motion will also fully implement SB439, which was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor in the last session. Under this motion, County Departments will treat SB439 as a minimum when making their recommendations to the Board. Based on this new law, the County will utilize this “counsel and release” standard as the default in the vast majority of cases, with Dependency Court as a last resort.

In the past decade, advances in youth brain development and punitive systems have shown that formal justice processing is often harmful to children’s health and development, exposing children to a system that they do not fully understand. Becoming justice-involved has a devastating consequence on a child’s future, increasing their likelihood of poverty and future incarceration while failing to address their underlying needs.

Between 2003 and 2017, about 92 percent of the petitions filed against young people under 12 in California were youth of color. And LA County is no exception: nearly all of the young adolescents arrested in the County in the last year were youth of color.

A MacArthur Foundation study found that incarceration of young people leads to declines in psychosocial maturity, meaning that justice-involved youth are even more impulsive and susceptible to negative peer influence upon release, placing them at higher risks for re-arrest. According to national experts at the Juvenile Justice Initiative, children who have been in detention are 39% less likely to finish high school than other public school students who come from the same neighborhood.