Bell urges Hickenlooper to sign bill limiting 'direct file'
The Bell Policy Center is urging Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign House Bill 1271, which would place limits on "direct file" of charges against youth offenders. Here is what Wade Buchanan, president of the Bell, said in a letter to the governor.
April 11, 2012
The Honorable John Hickenlooper
Office of the Governor
136 State Capitol
Denver, CO 80203-1792
Dear Gov. Hickenlooper:
We are writing to encourage you to sign House Bill 1271, "Juvenile Direct File Limitations," into law. This bill would place limits and safeguards on the ability to directly file charges against youthful offenders in adult courts. It recognizes the large body of research showing that prosecuting teens as adults makes it less likely they will be rehabilitated and become productive members of society.
Colorado and many other states made it easier to transfer juveniles to the adult system in the 1980s and 1990s, but reviews of the research on the outcomes of these changes have found that transferring juveniles to the adult system is counterproductive to preventing and reducing violence. Transfer policies have generally resulted in increased numbers of juveniles being arrested for subsequent crimes, including violent crimes. These policies have demonstrated no proven deterrent effect and have caused sharp increases in recidivism. The overwhelming majority of these studies show that the adult criminal justice system is ill-equipped to meet the needs of youth offenders.
House Bill 1271 strikes the proper balance between the prosecutors' ability to recommend that certain teenagers be tried as adults with the right of youthful defendants to have a judge make the final determination following a court hearing. Teenagers who commit crimes have made mistakes that could significantly alter the trajectory of their lives and those of their victims. It may be appropriate in some cases to prosecute youths as adults because of the severity of the crime committed or their history of criminal behavior. However, we should do so very carefully and only with safeguards in place to ensure that all factors are considered and that our actions are appropriate to the specific case in question.
We believe that such caution is appropriate given the radical change in circumstances that being tried as an adult represents for a juvenile. Under direct file, youths receive adult criminal and felony convictions that make it hard for them when released to earn enough money to live independently, pay restitution to victims, cover court costs and go on to live crime-free lives. These barriers reduce their opportunities to amend for their mistakes and live productive, fulfilling lives because of mistakes made when they were young and not necessarily fully aware of the consequences of their actions.
For the reasons outlined above, we believe that the safeguards that House Bill 1271 would provide are fair, fitting and necessary. We urge you to sign this bill into law.
Enclosed is a copy of our testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on this bill for reference. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact us.
The Bell Policy Center
 Task Force on Community Preventive Services, Centers for Disease Control, Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult System, Nov. 30, 2007.
 UCLA School of Law Juvenile Justice Project, The Impact of Prosecuting Youth in the Adult Criminal Justice System: A Review of the Literature, July 2010.
Article posted on April 16, 2012