Does a Minimum Age for Juvenile Court Jurisdiction Protect Children?

A new study co-authored by Laura Abrams, chair and professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, examines the need for a minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction. More than half of U.S. states lack a minimum age standard for prosecuting children, according to the study published in the journal Crime & Delinquency. Several states are considering setting a minimum age, but there is sparse research on whether doing so would protect children from “developmentally inappropriate proceedings beyond existing and competency statutes.” To fill this research gap, the UCLA team — including co-lead author Elizabeth Barnert, assistant professor of pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and graduate students from the Luskin School — used California as a case study. After reviewing existing state laws, juvenile crime data and opinions of diverse juvenile justice stakeholders, they found a low number of children below age 12 are actually subjected to prosecution in juvenile court. However, they also found that existing legal protections are inconsistently implemented across the state. They concluded that a minimum age law would address existing policy gaps. Currently, California legislators are considering a bill to establish a minimum age of 12 for juvenile court jurisdiction, the oldest minimum age threshold in the U.S. “One of the most interesting facets of this study was discovering the absence of data or discussion about juvenile minimum age laws and capacity and competency laws and proceedings. This study beings to unravel this ‘black box’ of law and policy,” said the researchers. — Stan Paul

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