A Colorado bill that would raise the minimum age for criminal responsibility from 10 to 13 years old passed the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday in a 6-5 vote. House Bill 1131, which aims to reduce youth justice involvement in favor of prevention, is now being reviewed by the Appropriations Committee.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D), said kids that age need help, not incarceration — which often sets youngsters on the road to lifelong entanglement in the criminal justice system.
“We’re talking about 10, 11 and 12-year-olds,” she said. “I just want to be very clear: We’re talking about children.”
Youth age 10 to 13 who are charged with homicide would still be tried in criminal court. If passed, the law would further allow youth ages 14 and older to be charged as adults only if it’s a class 1 or class 2 felony, or a violent crime.
The bill faces at least one formidable hurdle. As the Denver Post reported, all of the state’s elected district attorneys opposed the bill as it was introduced. Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty testified in February that the bill isn’t fair to victims, and doesn’t provide the services that backers say they want for young offenders.
“If a 12-year-old boy rapes a 10-year-old girl living next door, under this bill when the police respond, they would simply be left to say, ‘We have no role here,’” he stated. “We owe it to the 10-year-old girl and her family to support her and help her and make sure the right thing happens … and we owe it to the 12-year-old boy to help him and make sure he gets on the right track. That is currently done through the juvenile justice system. There currently is no other system that exists that can take on that role.”
Elise Logemann of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado said school services, mental health providers and child welfare could be alternatives to the justice system. But as reported by CBS Denver, groups representing cities and municipalities that oppose the bill said the child welfare system couldn’t handle the strain of more youth.
Other states have wrestled with similar measures in recent years as lawmakers from both parties take into account research indicating that the human brain continues to develop beyond the teenage years. According to the National Juvenile Justice Network, 26 states have no minimum age for prosecution. Internationally, age 14 is the most common minimum age for criminal responsibility.